Editorial: Nine percent is not enough…

Author : Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT

07 June 2018

Mark Gradwell, Consultant Editor of EPDT

You already know that engineering in the UK is suffering from a persistent and substantial skills gap: EngineeringUK reports that the annual shortfall of engineering graduates to meet demand is more than 20,000 – and 50,000 for engineering roles at large! And only 9% of the UK industry workforce is female, and just 6% of registered engineers and technicians – CEng, IEng, EngTech – are women…

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While the UK is certainly not alone in facing a gender gap in engineering, it does have the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at under 10%. In Ireland, the number is 14%; Germany has 15%; France has 17%; Spain has 18%; and Italy and Greece both have 20%; Romania has 25%, Sweden has 26%, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead the continent with almost a third, at 30%.

The UK’s number also trails behind the US, at 14% – and well behind China at 40%, India at 33% and Russia at more than 30%. Perhaps surprisingly, the numbers of women in engineering in many developing, Arab and Muslim nations is also substantially higher than in most Western developed nations.

Clearly then, this is (or at least, should be) an area of concern for UK engineering. Even aside from the issue of diversity in the workplace, at a time when society is facing so many grand challenges that ultimately need engineers to find solutions, our industry is missing out on the collective brainpower, ideas and talent (not to mention the alternative perspective) of a huge proportion of the population. And quite obviously, attracting greater numbers of young girls to study STEM subjects, before going on to study engineering and pursue engineering careers, could go a long way to helping us address the skills gap.

Once we recognise and accept there is a problem, the next step is to try and figure out why – before we try and fix it. Of course, some of the issue is historical – engineering has often traditionally been perceived as a ‘male’ role, and its ‘hard hat, grease, tools and overalls’ image persists (which is actually part of a wider awareness issue for engineering – putting off not only some girls, but some boys too).

Parents and even teachers often perpetuate the problem too – either actively or sometimes just because they don’t feel adequately capable of, or comfortable, encouraging and recommending STEM subjects and engineering careers. A lack of female engineer role models also exacerbates the issue. So education and awareness is vital.

June 23rd is International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), an annual event launched as a national event in the UK in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to celebrate its 95th anniversary.

Since 2014, it has grown enormously, receiving UNESCO patronage in 2016. In 2017, it became international for the first time, responding to the interest and enthusiasm developed by the international audience and participants in previous years. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was born to allow the celebration of women in engineering to become global. I encourage you to read my June '18 STEM column to find out more about INWED 2018 – and to do everything you can to help encourage more girls and young women to pursue STEM studies and careers. #9percentisnotenough

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