Those with engineering qualifications and apprenticeships are highly sought after but just one in eight of those in the sector are women.
What is preventing women from choosing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career path?
The disparity between girls and boys going into STEM-related subjects at school and college is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the skills gap.
young women studying engineering stagnated.
The UK engineering sector is currently suffering, with employers finding it increasingly difficult to find the appropriately experienced candidates for positions.
The proportion of young women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012 and only around 20% of A-Level physics students are girls.
This figure has not changed in almost 30 years. Despite this, there is now very little gender difference in the take up of, and achievement in core STEM GCSE subjects.
This shows there is no inherent or performance-based reason for the low numbers of women in these industries.
These inequalities continue into the working world as it has been found that although women and men in engineering express similar levels of intent to work, two thirds (66.2%) of men go on to work in STEM-related areas whereas only 47.4% of female graduates in 2011 went on to work in engineering and technology.
Almost half (49%) of maintained co-ed schools sent no girls on to take A-level physics in 2011, which is a deeply disturbing figure when we account for the fact that 64% of engineering employers say a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business.
Through lack of encouragement and a curriculum that isn’t as inclusive as it could be, we are not only damaging the potentials of future women, but also the potential of the economy as a whole.
Britain’s declining number of homegrown engineers would create a need to outsource both staff and materials from outside the UK.
Girls were almost two and a half times more likely to go on to do A-level physics if they came from a girl’s school rather than a co-ed school, which suggests there may be difficulties in understanding the differences between girl’s and boy’s learning habits and engaging a mixed class.
We may be able to combat these figures through governmental pressure and guidance, with the IOP suggesting that gender equality needs to be part of the OFSTED inspection criteria so that a school cannot be judged outstanding if there are clear participation issues that are not being addressed.
The reasons for many women’s decision not to continue studying STEM subjects past GCSE level could range from social pressure at school and restrictive gender roles, causing conformity.
Parents and teachers are often ill-equipped at giving advice about STEM subjects and the potential for careers, as the need for engineers in today’s world is far greater than the previous generation.
Engineering and physics are also often viewed as ‘boy’s subjects’ from a societal point of view.
the future is female engineers
The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10 percent, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%.
However, in a survey of 300 female engineers, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice.
This extremely high level of job satisfaction for women in the sector points towards a promising future for women in the industry.
Furthermore, companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse, making the decision to diversify the engineering sector a logical one.
If we want to maintain Britain’s role as a manufacturing powerhouse, investing in the education of women and girls in STEM-related subjects is a good first step.