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Early advice essential to attract more women into engineering

Early careers advice is essential to increase the number of women in engineering and manufacturing jobs over the next 20 years, according to a set of recommendations published by the the Council for Industry and Higher Education on 25 October.

The report, Great Expectations: Top manufacturing and engineering talent 2030, is based on a survey of 600 women in their final or penultimate year of an undergraduate degree. It was carried out by student market research company OpinionPanel. The women had all achieved A grades in GCSE maths, physics and chemistry, two-thirds of them had pursued these subjects at A-level, and a third had gone on to do an engineering or a manufacturing-based degree.

The 600 women were sub-divided into four groups based on responses to questions about their attitudes to pursuing careers in engineering and manufacturing. The main recommendations of the report focuses on one of these groups, the so-called ‘fresh starters’, who made up 41 per cent of the total.

These women had a positive attitude towards pursuing engineering or manufacturing careers but had dropped physics, chemistry and maths after GCSE or A-level and were now pursuing degrees in other areas. Many of this group said they would have been encouraged to continue science subjects if they had a better understanding of the sorts of careers they could lead to.

The report argues that if these women had been targeted earlier, many of them could have ended up in engineering or manufacturing careers. “While it should be acknowledged that some girls are simply more enthusiastic about maths, physics or chemistry and are naturally inclined to careers in engineering and manufacturing, many are either excluding themselves or, more importantly, lack sufficient encouragement and advice,” the report says.

Other problems with getting more women to pursue such jobs include the perception of such careers as being “male-centric” or “boring”.

The report will form the basis of a campaign being run by CIHE called Talent 2030, aimed at getting more women to pursue engineering subjects over the next 20 years. “Someone born this year will start university in 2030. This gives us enough time in terms of policy for it to have an effect,” Stephanie Scott-Davies, CIHE’s external affairs manager, told Research Fortnight.