STEM in Schools

Women in engineering begins and ends in the classroom. But only 58% of teachers and 36% of parents feel confident giving career advice.

engineering teaching in schools

women in STEM subjects sharply declines with age.

There is already a skill shortfall in Engineering of almost 60’000 engineering graduates and technicians needed each year. 46% of employers report struggling with recruitment so something needs to be done to bridge the gap.

recruitment starts with schools.

A 10% decrease of GCSE entrants for biology, chemistry and physics was reported between 2012 and 2017, displaying a worrying trend for the STEM subjects at the very beginning of learning.

27% of 11-14 year-olds know what engineers do [2017]

the state of UK engineering 2018

31% of parents know what engineers do [2017]

- UK state of engineering report 2018

Awareness is a key issue when it comes to learning about engineering. Where few children and teens know what an engineer does it can be hard to generate interest in a subject when little is understood about the scope of the job.

Naturally, children look up to parents for advice at this stage, from ages 11 to 19 an average of 66% look to their parents for career advice, peaking at 70% between 11-14. If only 31% of parents also know what an engineer does, it is unlikely to inspire an interest in such a subject.  

women in engineering statistics 2018

Fig [1] - The state of engineering, key facts, Infographic leaflet, [2018]

The continuation of that trend can be seen in the above image. Dropping from 50% of female students taking physics GCSEs to less than half at A Level and continuing to only 8% of female engineering apprenticeships. 

While many historic female figures help shaped the world of engineering, they have not always been recognised for their efforts. Awareness is key, and promoting strong female role models in the industry with an understanding of the job role will be important to further the growth of Britain's workforce. Especially these key areas of skilled workers are more important today than ever before. With large scale projects like HS2, requiring a 30’000 strong workforce with a high demand for skilled labour and engineering talent; the opportunity is there but someone needs to be accepting the jobs on offer.

barriers for Women in STEM subjects.

One in five said a ‘male-dominated culture’ was a reason women might leave the sector

how women can lead the way in engineering - Randstad 2018

This male-dominated assumption creates fear and reluctance in the industry for women to realise their full potential for worry of not enjoying the work-life experience.

One in five said equal pay and 17% said a culture change

how women can lead the way in engineering - Randstad 2018

When asked what might prevent these worries of joining engineering the focus was still on the culture of the industry and also being paid fairly. The impression of the industry still carries these concerns and barriers to entry, preventing both women with the skills to succeed and young girls learning STEM subjects pursuing an engineering career.

engineering perception. 

Regardless of any actual gender bias in the workforce or fears quoted becoming a reality, perception of STEM and engineering careers are where it all starts. Without strong role models leading the charge, supported by dedicated efforts in schools by teachers and businesses the small window of early opportunity will be lost.

Our study found that 13% of respondents pointed towards having too few female role models as a factor in leaving the industry. This makes it more difficult for women to aspire to senior positions because they don’t have clear pathways; especially when 47% of our survey never had a female manager.

should more bursaries and grants be offered to incentivise female students?

Studying can be rewarding and land you your dream job, but it comes at a cost, both time and money are spent in abundance to find the career you want.

WES - Women’s Engineering Society

Support is already in place from the 100-year society of engineering in the form of multiple funds and grants, but are they enough or promoted enough?

The WES Hardship Fund focuses on Higher Education students providing education assistance to undergraduates allowing highly skilled low-income students the opportunity to pursue engineering. But by this stage we have already lost 84% of female students, so we need to start earlier.

In partnership with large companies such as Ford’s scholarship programme, there are large funds available to students once they have an interest as an undergraduate and some high calibre Year 11 students to support their A level learning such as The Arkwright Trust. Opportunity is available but the awareness appears to be lacking and the support into such funds. There’s currently only a handful of schemes targeting younger students in the prime of their engineering interest years like Money To Learn for 14-19 year-olds offering a small bi-weekly allowance of £30 to stay in school with bonuses offered for achieving targets. However, there are some stringent rules to be eligible for the scheme and it doesn’t focus on engineering.

But if grants and incentives aren’t doing the job, what will encourage more women in engineering.

women hold up half the sky - China’s 40% female engineering workforce. 

China is doing something right so what are we doing so wrong?

Women Hold Up Half The Sky

- Mao Zedong (Chairman 1949 - 1976)

If you think about those few words from Chairman Mao it’s a perfect example of equality and acceptance, acknowledging the importance of the female population and their equal worth in supporting the world.

China is a great example of female empowerment in leadership especially. Women hold the top jobs at 20 leading agencies, but to them, this is no surprise with 49 Chinese women among the list of the world’s self-made billionaires.

China has explicitly upheld the notion of gender equality in daily life… That’s not to say pressures are equal across genders, as there are expectations that are different for males and females that are deeply rooted in Chinese culture. However, at the heart of it all is a real doctrine of equality.

- Anna Chitty, PHD China CEO.

what can UK engineering learn from China?

It starts at the beginning. Generations of Chinese children have grown up with ideologies of gender balance. Currently, 64% of women are in work compared with 54% in the UK and US.

Continuing in life, success is not hampered by a glass ceiling, nor a drop off of work as women get older. 33% of married women under 40 are earning more than their husbands and in direct comparison, 19% of single women earn more than men according to the BBDO Voices Report.

I remember, when I was starting out, there were a lot of outstanding women role models and as a young woman, seeing is believing...The idea of inequality never crossed my mind.

- Carol Lam, CCO & President of Leo Burnett.

The acceleration of the Chinese workforce doesn’t have time for ideas of gender discrimination as the demand for talent is too great. Home to the world’s largest High-Speed Railway, China has always had a demand greater than supply and focussed on skill and experience for the most efficient workforce possible.

This insight from China’s workforce reflects perfectly to the UK’s struggles and shows us the key is still to focus on school education and overall cultural influence. Starting young, learning STEM and reinforcing the interest with real achievable female representatives in the industry should be the driving factor for more women in engineering.

international women in engineering

what are we already doing in the UK for engineering?

International Women in Engineering Day is now a global event celebrated in organisations such as WISE and supported with the WE50 awards and She Can Engineer.

Events such as this showcase powerful women in engineering careers with fantastic success stories, hopefully, able to inspire others into engineering. It also allows an open forum to discuss women in work after maternity leave and how businesses can better utilise women after raising a family to maintain valuable skills.

This year #INWED19 looks to further progress the discussion on Sunday 23rd June 2019, spreading the theme of #TransformTheFuture after 100 years of WES.  

WES has set a target and started work encouraging universities, government and industry to work together to ensure that by 2030, 30% of professional engineers in the STEM workforce are women.

Research shows that when you reach a representation of 30%, a group stops feeling like a minority.

- Bodley, CEO of WES

We at Randstad hope to see this become a reality, placing more skilled and trained engineers through projects such as the HS2 railway to try and reach this 30% goal.

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