The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) is calling for renewed focus on improving gender diversity across engineering to help deliver the economic recovery.
Engineering employers were already reporting a serious shortfall in recruits before the Covid-19 crisis and the Association says the sector’s failure to improve its appeal to women and girls will hamper growth.
Just 12% of UK engineers are female – although that is an improvement from the 9% recorded in 2015 – and just 25% of girls aged 16-18 would consider a career in engineering compared with more than 50% of boys, according to the latest statistics gathered by EngineeringUK.
Engineering is crucial to the overall economic success of the country generating 23% of the country’s annual turnover (including most of its exports) and employing 5.6 million people, but employers in the sector reported around 59,000 unfilled vacancies last year.
“Engineering professions will be crucial to the economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic,” said BESA President John Norfolk. “We need to power up the sector with the widest possible range of skills; yet we continue to miss a major recruitment opportunity with half of the population.”
BESA is supporting the seventh annual International Women in Engineering Day (INWED20) on June 23rd. This global awareness campaign is supported by UNESCO and organised by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). It raises the profile of women engineers focusing attention on the “amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry”.
This year’s theme is ‘Shape the World’ (#ShapeTheWorld), which highlights how engineering can deliver social and sustainability goals – something that will be a crucial part of the global recovery, according to the Association.
WES chief executive Elizabeth Donnelly said the theme tied in with “the challenges facing us in an uncertain future and invites engineers to share how they are tackling such topics as the climate emergency”.
She thanked BESA for supporting the campaign adding that men would be just as important as women in solving engineering’s diversity problem.
“Since its inception [in 1919 in the wake of the First World War and the women’s suffrage movement], WES has worked to try to ensure that women have the opportunities to work and to be educated, campaigning for equal rights, equal education and equal pay in a sector which remains heavily male dominated,” said Ms Donnelly.
“Our work in improving the rights of women in the workplace would have been impossible without male allies, who were able to use their social standing and personal experience to make the case for women being a positive addition to the engineering workforce.”
BESA is challenging its members and the wider built environment sector to use this time of change to build on the INWED campaign.
“It is telling that 46% of girls would consider engineering as a career at age 11-14 – compared with 70% of boys – but that falls to just 25% aged 16-18,” said Mr Norfolk. “We must all do more as employers to showcase the wonderful opportunities this industry offers to all young adults.”
The Prime Minister has also put apprenticeships one of his key priorities for rebuilding the economy, but currently girls and women account for less than 18% of higher apprentices in engineering and manufacturing – and for just 7.4% of all engineering apprentices. Just 22% of students starting A level Physics last year were female.
Yet, studies show that they outperform their male counterparts in all STEM A level subjects apart from Chemistry, according to EngineeringUK, which is a not-for-profit body working with the sector to encourage more young people to take up engineering careers.
“Unless we can recruit more female engineers, our firms will find it increasingly hard to deliver the social, economic and environmental challenges we all face,” said Mr Norfolk.
BESA is marking its support for INWED20 with a special webinar this Friday (June 12th) at noon hosted by chief executive David Frise. He will be joined by WES CEO Elizabeth Donnelly, and a panel of women from BESA member companies talking about their experiences in the building engineering sectors and the importance of encouraging diversity in the sector.
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