North East businesses challenged to tackle gender gap

Heidi Mottram

North East businesses challenged to tackle gender gap

Northumbrian Water boss Heidi Mottram's voice is one of many echoing the call, as part of International Women In Engineering Day

Figures from the Women’s Engineering Society showing that women make up less than 10% of the UK engineering sector.

Just a few days before International Women In Engineering Day, one of the North East’s most prominent business leaders has said men and women have a joint role to play in addressing a growing skills gap.

Northumbrian Water Chief Executive Heidi Mottram said: “The energy and utilities sectors face a significant future skills gap, with more than 200,000 new entrants to the industry needed in the next ten years.

“While this is an issue that needs to be tackled, it also represents a real opportunity to bring more women into engineering as we look to address not only that skills gap but also the gender imbalance that exists in this sector.

“Earlier this year, Northumbrian Water joined with 26 other businesses as the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership to launch the Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy for the sector. This partnership approach reflects both a broad understanding of the recruitment challenges that face these sectors and a collective will to tackle them.

“With less than 10% of the UK engineering sector made up of women, we clearly need to do more to encourage female entrants to the industry. This needs to be done at a number of key stages of education, when young people are forming their ideas of different careers, as well as in a way that engages people later in life, inspiring people to consider moving into engineering from other areas.

“However, this is not just a job for women to tackle. We must draw upon the support of men who can also help enthuse, encourage and support girls and women to see the fantastic opportunities that can be found in engineering and to really go for a career in the industry.”

Also speaking out is Helen Gott, Engineering Lecturer at Hartlepool College, who said: “One of the main issues with young women getting in to the engineering industry is that they can’t identify with the careers available. Many girls that come to us know very little about the different paths that engineering creates, largely because they aren’t careers that they can directly relate to.

“Unless they have family members who have worked in engineering roles, they are unlikely to have any knowledge of the sector and enrolling on a course or an apprenticeship is often a bit of a leap of faith.”

Engineering continues to stand out as a majorly male-dominated industry, and according to research by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers women currently make up only 9% of engineers in the UK.

If the sector is to achieve its growth potential, the industry needs to find a way to attract more women into the profession.

Hartlepool College of Further Education is marking Women in Engineering Day by inviting 75 female Year 9 and 10 pupils from across Hartlepool to an engineering taster day at the College, where they will hear from other female students and graduates and also undertake practical challenges to give them a flavour of a potential new career path. 

And businesses from across Teesside are striving to proactively change perceptions of engineering as a career and encourage young girls to enrol on apprenticeship courses.

Sarah Lackenby is a mechanical engineering apprentice at Hartlepool College of Further Education, who has been working as an apprentice inspector at Altec Engineering since 2015. Sarah said: “There aren’t as many female role models in engineering as there are in other areas such as fashion and health and beauty. A good handful of my friends didn’t follow me into engineering because they wanted to take after their role models, women who are fashionistas, make-up artists, or models.

“It all starts from an early age where little girls follow classic female stereotypes which shape their personalities and interests. Usually they play with dolls and make-up, and enjoy dressing up, you rarely see them playing with Lego, building games or Meccano. It’s the exact opposite with boys which introduces the question, why do so few young males choose to go into hair and beauty or fashion?

“My advice to other young women considering engineering as a career would be to go for it and don’t hold back, you may be the other female apprentice like I was, or there may be only two girls in your class of 20+, but it really doesn’t matter, the college will support you to ensure you succeed.”