International Women in Engineering Day takes place every year on 23rd June. It’s a day to celebrate those women studying and working in engineering, as well as encouraging more women to consider a career in engineering. The national day began in the UK in 2014, but grew to be internationally recognised in 2017.
A study taken in 2017 indicates that 11% of the engineering workforce is female, meaning an increase of 2% on the survey from 2015. However, this still makes females under populated in the engineering field. The under-representation of women in the field is problematic as it leaves a gap in the workforce leaving out potential talent.
UK Engineering is facing serious skills shortages. Approximately 90,000 graduate level engineers are needed each year between now and 2020. The UK has a long way to go to fill the predicted skills gap with the higher education system currently producing only 50000 engineering graduates annually- a gap that cannot only be filed by focusing recruitment on 50% of the population (males).
We spoke with Laura Hurcombe, a thriving engineer who is currently the SSP Pumps’ Business Improvement Manager. Laura has strived in a male dominant sector and believes addressing diversity and inclusion will not only help bridge this gap, it will also help drive innovation and creativity. The future success of engineering will come from addressing complex global challenges. Innovative solutions will only be possible with improved diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
Laura started her career at the age of 17 when she joined Renishaw as an apprentice and continued her study part-time at the UWE Bristol where she achieved an Honours Degree. In 2007, Laura moved to SPP Pumps Limited as a Design Engineer. From there, Laura has progressed through the company holding positions of Technical Documentation Manger, Engineering Manager and Production manager making her responsible for the delivery of highly specified designs and products into the Oil and Gas, fire and protection and Water industries from the Coleford Manufacturing site in the Forest Of Dean.
Having attended the Japanese Union for scientists and engineers to study Total Quality Management Laura returned to her position as Business Excellence Manager and developed a company Improvement strategy and project management office to manage the continuous improvement initiatives within SPP Pumps Ltd, to quantitatively and qualitatively improve costs, quality and service, achieving a significant benefit to the company.
Laura is a keen supporter of local education initiatives, having been an active member of Forest Inspiration, and most notably lead a workplace learning scheme that won a national adult learning award for its innovative approach to providing learning opportunities at work, enhancing the business as well as the lives of its employees and families. Science and maths are essential subjects to study at school to enable students to qualify for university courses. Studies have shown that contrary to popular belief girls are equally competent at them as boys and being at a single sex school enhances girls performance in these subjects.
Another inspirational engineer, Emma Holly provided us with the following quote regarding her career in engineering and the amazing achievements she has gained. Emma says “I was from a family of engineers and both of my older sisters had also started out as apprentices in engineering. Both carved out successful careers. It was clear where my path lay.
My careers teacher was keen to get me involved. Along with my father, she was my inspiration and set up a number of opportunities to trigger my enthusiasm. I followed suit and started my apprenticeship at Peugeot cars. There was just one other female apprentice and 12 Male. I have had lots of roles and worked in lots of great companies. Although it’s tough for women in engineering it is also very rewarding. I never saw myself in a male role, we had no gender boundaries defined whilst we were growing up. Anyone is capable of achieving anything. The frustration was more apparent as a young engineer with something to prove, but once established as credible professional being a woman in engineering is actually a positive thing. Being a minority often sets you aside in a positive way. I have always been very driven and nothing stands in my way. I have had a number of senior roles in engineering and am keen to get young people involved in engineering. I am currently CEO in Lucy Castings and transforming the business ready for a growth plan over the coming years.”
These two examples of women, not just succeeding but blooming in their engineering fields are an encouragement to young women considering the sector as a career. The biggest barrier to young women is not being able to see more than a handful of females doing traditionally ‘male’ jobs in the sector, which makes them assume these roles are closed to them. There is a lack of awareness at secondary school level about how wide ranging the opportunities in engineering are with only 31% of female students being fully informed of the extent of options available to them.
Engineering is important to the UK, contributing £12£128milionto our economy. If women were encouraged to meet their full potential in work, it is expected it could add as much as £28 trillion to annual GDP in 2025. In any business or sector, a contrasting set of eyes looking at a problem, can offer a different angle and point out a flaw or solution.
The UK has the lowest number of female engineers in Europe 7% compared to 25% in Sweden and 30% in Latvia. Perception of engineering jobs is often seen as hard hats and construction sites but this is only a small part engineering.
Employers are beginning to offer women in the engineering sector allowances to re-enter the workplace without formal qualifications. Schools are paying experts to educate girls in schools about the opportunities and rewards women in engineering can achieve. There is hope that this drive will initiate some positive participation shifts for female engineers in five years’ time.
If you are an engineer looking for a fresh start and would like to see what opportunities we might have available, get in contact with us!