We are the worst in Europe for recruiting women engineers

Across many professions, rightly or wrongly to most, we see gender differences. For example, if we look at primary school teaching, we can see that it is very heavily female dominated, although more male teachers are signing up for teacher training now than previously. However in secondary teaching, certainly in secondary school’s I’ve visited and worked in over the past few years, I notice more male teachers than female.

This is true for engineering too. Across the world, engineering in most part is very heavily male dominated. In the UK, this is so much so that it is the worst in Europe for recruiting women. In addition, half the country’s mixed sex state schools do not have a single girl studying physics at A-level.

The figures are released in a review carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills by Professor John Perkins – its chief scientific adviser, which says there is an urgent need to substantially increase the supply of engineers in the UK if the country is to compete with its international rivals.

“We’re chronically short of people and we need to do something about it,” said Business Secretary Vince Cable. “At the moment we’re only talking to half the population. Britain is the worst country in Europe in terms of female recruitment into engineering. Half of all our state schools don’t have a single girl studying physics A-level.”

According to the report, only eight per cent of engineering professionals in the UK are women – which compares to 30 per cent in Latvia, the country with the best record. In addition, 22 of the 28 countries surveyed do twice as well as the UK in terms of recruitment.

The report effectively questions whether thousands of pounds pumped into efforts to promote equality in subject choice has been wasted and will boost claims that girls are more likely to go for non-traditional subject options in single sex schools.

It shows, too, that parents to blame for putting girls off a career in engineering – they were nine per cent less likely to recommend it as a career for girls, the biggest “gender gap” for any job.

“This is a crucial issue,” says the report. “Engineering is failing to draw on the whole of the talent pool.”
It adds that one of the reasons for the poor recruitment record is that gender stereotypes are often reinforced in the careers advice given to students.

It urges the Government to concentrate efforts at persuading more young people to take up engineering as a career at 11 to 14-year-olds, adding: “Starting to inspire people at 16 is too late: choices are made and options closed off well before then.”

The report praises the work of University Technical Colleges, the network of colleges offering top-class vocational study for 14 to 19-year-olds – 33 of the 44 currently being planned have a specialism in engineering, It argues there should be more of them – a fact conceded by Mr Cable although he warned they were more expensive to provide because of the equipment they needed to offer courses,

Further research published today shows that half the country’s 11 to 14-year-olds would not consider a career in engineering because they do not know anything about it. The figure is much higher for girls – 65 per cent.

However, it shows 28 per cent would consider it as a career if they realised they could work inb exciting industries like fashion, music and film.

The reports are issued at the start of “Tomorrow’s Engineers Week”, an initiative aimed at change perceptions of engineering as a career. To coincide with the launch, the Government announced would be able top bid for up to £30 million worth of funding in the New Year to help them address skills shortages.

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