"Recruiting more female engineers will help to overcome the current engineering skills shortage."
It’s widely accepted that the UK is suffering from a chronic shortage of engineering skills, with around 400,000 engineer roles unfilled according to the Scottish National Investment Bank.
And there is not just a shortage of talent in the industry, but a gender imbalance too.
According to the Engineering UK 2017/2018 report, there are fewer than 8% practising female engineers in the country. If we are to overcome this skills shortage, this has to change. It is up to educational institutions and businesses to work together to encourage more women into a career in engineering. At Fife College, these are the core areas we are focusing on:
Start from a grassroots level
We are up against what appears to be deep-rooted societal and parental views on what a career in engineering for girls actually involves, with many having a very traditional view that it’s all about adjustable spanners and oily rags. The reality, of course, is that with the increasing use of technology, the sector is transforming in so many ways.
This perception has to change, which means adopting a new approach at a grassroots level. If we are to spark the imagination in pre-school and primary school children that engineering is a rewarding career choice, schools must be better equipped and better informed in order to teach, inspire and encourage the next generation of engineers.
Universities and colleges need to work much more closely with schools in this regard. This is why Fife College has a team of two full-time STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) education officers who run an extensive Engineering for Girls programme across schools in Fife and beyond with pupils aged P6 – S6. Only by igniting and sustaining an interest in STEM from an early age can we hope to overcome the skills shortage and encourage more women into engineering.
Create partnerships with industry
It’s not just down to gaps in education; employers need to better plan for their workforce of the future. Businesses need to assess what skills they require and better communicate this with colleges and universities, so that we can ensure courses are designed with these specific skills in mind.
One of the best ways to do this is to enter into partnerships with key players in the industry. At Fife College, we have partnered with Shell to run a comprehensive skills course for S4 girls. Shell sponsors four young women to gain a qualification in Skills for Work: Energy at SCQF Level 5 at Fife College, which includes learning and industrial visits to Shell facilities in Aberdeen and Fife.
To date over 80 female students have taken part, providing an introduction to the sector for the participants and recruitment opportunities for Shell. More schemes of this nature need to be introduced across Scotland in order to better connect college and university students with potential employers.
Invest in apprenticeships
Schools often focus too much on promoting a university education as the only route into a career in engineering, but this is simply not true.
Employers value practical skills alongside qualifications and so there is a real opportunity for businesses to work with their local schools and colleges to offer work experience placements and apprenticeships to students. The benefits are twofold; they provide the employer with access to a potential pool of talent that they could tap into and help nurture, while students gain first-hand experience and exposure of what a career in engineering actually involves, thereby encouraging more to see it as a viable career option.
We must work together to change the current perceptions of the sector, to inspire more interest in STEM subjects among girls from a young age and to make more apprenticeships and work experience placements available to our young people. Only by building stronger partnerships between education and industry can we hope to address the ever-widening skills gap and gender imbalance in engineering.