According to a recent survey from The IET, more than a third of UK employers have done nothing to attract young women into engineering. The survey pointed out that only 7% of the engineering workforce is female, yet only 6% of the 400 organisations surveyed have a positive attitude to such things as flexible working. And 36% do nothing to improve workforce diversity.
The Government is looking to tackle this problem – amongst others – with the launch of a £200million fund to increase the take up of STEM subjects at English universities. Universities will need to bid for a share of the cash against strict criteria, then at least match the funding they receive.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) says it will also join forces with major engineering employers and institutions, as well as some of the country’s leading young engineers, to help persuade more young people to pursue a career in engineering.
This will be important; the perception of the engineer’s role and worth has diminished over the years; there are now negative connotations and more effort will be needed to convince students that engineering offers a viable career.
One recently launched BIS initiative is the See Inside Manufacturing scheme. Laudable as it is, the use of the word ‘manufacturing’ in the title is enough to put many people off – and young women in particular are said to associate ‘manufacturing’ with dirt and challenging workplace environments. We’ve also talked before about the national media’s association of ‘manufacturing’ with declining industries; something which doesn’t help the situation.
The survey implies that UK industry is concerned about skill shortages, but not prepared to do anything about them. That’s a sad indictment of their attitude and strange when you consider that 61% of respondents to New Electronics’ critical issues survey cited skills as one of the biggest challenges for the UK’s electronics sector.
We know there is a lot of young talent out there – male and female alike – and we as an industry are doing little to spark the initial interest and then nurture it. There are beacons of hope in the shape of ventures such as the UK Electronics Skills Foundation, but IET chief executive Nigel Fine is right when he says it will take a concerted effort from the engineering industry as a whole to fix the problem.
The question is whether UK industry will respond, even if this concerted effort can be constructed.
Written by: Graham Pitcher