Let’s Get More Women Into Engineering – an International Women’s Day plea from DTL

Develop Training Ltd (DTL) has urged the government and employers to make attracting more women in to construction and engineering a higher priority.

The training company says redressing the gender imbalance is not just desirable from an ideological viewpoint, but also a means of helping to tackle the chronic skills shortage afflicting the industry. Two thirds of employers say a shortage of engineers is a threat to their business.

DTL, whose customers include household names in the utilities and energy sectors, highlighted the issue to coincide with International Women’s Day, taking place today, 8th March.

This year, International Women’s Day kicks off a year-long campaign with the theme #BalanceForBetter. Organisers of the initiative said: “Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, a gender-balance of employees… Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.”

The construction industry has long come under fire for its ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach to women’s PPE clothing, and with women having to stuff tissue into the toes of workboots to make them fit, this is clearly a hazardous and ridiculous state of affairs for the industrial footwear sector to be in. Dr. Martens is one of the brands making strides to remedy the situation.

John Kerr, DTL’s Director of Education & Training, commented on gender imbalances across engineering: “The industries we serve are among the most male-dominated in the country. Only nine per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce is female, and we have the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.”

According to Kerr, challenges include improving the way construction and engineering are portrayed in schools, encouraging girls and young women to study engineering-related subjects and changing perceptions of working in the industry.

He continued: “In many ways, the obstacles to bringing more women into the sector are the same as we face in attracting young people. The industry offers well-paid, secure and skilled work with great career prospects, but it still encounters prejudiced ideas of dirty manual labour.

“There are a number of excellent initiatives to attract women into engineering and construction, and some great role models, and we hope that broader changes in society will also play a part in breaking down barriers. We support International Women’s Day and the Balance For Better campaign in their efforts to make a difference.”

One female role model is DTL’s own Nicola Smith, who swapped life as a stockbroker to become an engineer. Smith has been a Lecturer in Smart Meter installation with DTL since February 2017, passing on the skills and knowledge she developed during her time as a hands-on installer to others.

At age 19, she applied for a mechanics course, but the man she spoke to about it put her off. Years later, after she had launched a successful career in the financial sector, an apprenticeship at British Gas came up and she grabbed the opportunity.

Smith said: “At that time British Gas were one of the few companies offering to pay people while they learned. Fortunately, many more companies offer apprenticeships today.”

During her time as an apprentice, Smith had to challenge public perceptions that engineers were men: “Customers would say to me ‘but when will the engineer be here?’ And I’d have to explain that I was the engineer.”

Smith hopes that at DTL, she can play a part in encouraging women into engineering: “I’m a massive advocate of encouraging more women into the industry.  I really want to encourage women to see it as a career choice. There’s genuinely nothing a man can do that we can’t. With practice, you become just as capable as your male colleagues. I really can’t shout loudly enough about it.”

Last year, Torque quizzed Mirka Valovicova, Technical Manager at Fischer fixings, on her experiences in the fixings business, leading a team of seven and clocking up hours on construction sites across the country.

Don’t miss Torque’s upcoming feature on Women in Fasteners & Tools in our April print edition, take a look at our Features List to see what else we have coming up in 2019.