Change the mindset to change the balance
Following the NSARE inspection in the summer, it was made clear that expert training within the rail industry is of paramount importance.
However, what is also of great importance is ensuring that we have new blood and a diverse workforce coming into the industry. It’s crucial that we address this issue and look to change the mentality of the industry and consider how training providers can engage with the potential engineers of the future.
The engineering industry as a whole has an ageing, predominantly male workforce and we must look to tackle this issue if the UK’s engineering sector is to remain competitive. We must seek out, develop and harness the talents of potential engineers from all backgrounds.
Untapped pool of talent
Women represent a largely untapped pool of talent that would provide huge benefits especially to the rail sector where women hold a credible 23 per cent of the management positions.
But the UK figures for the past two years show no change in the percentage of female engineering professionals; in fact the UK has the lowest proportion in the EU, just 8.7 per cent.
More worrying still is the fact that the trend among younger women is for them not to choose engineering as a career. Can training providers assist in changing the mindset?
During the Second World War women were trained to become skilled engineers, producing ammunition, planes and even tanks while men went onto the front line, demonstrating that females were more than capable of taking on roles that were previously the preserve of men.
Then in the 1950s, time-served Apprenticeships took to the forefront of engineering where men once again were leading the engineering industry.
Over seven decades later, gender attitudes towards women are changing. New generations of trainers are entering the marketplace who have different attitudes to women in the industry, which will undoubtedly lead to more women being encouraged into the sector.
We need a strategy
However, despite the fact that the mindset is changing and opportunities are available for women, it appears that early on they are dissuaded or diverted from following the engineering career route. However, their apparent disinterest in engineering can’t be down to ability. In fact in China a third of the engineers are female, proving, if proof were needed, that women can be attracted into the profession.
The reality in this county is that girls often close the door on career opportunities in engineering by the choices they make as young teenagers. The message is loud and clear; we need a strategy for reaching these young women before culture, tradition and misconceptions get in our way.
Training providers understand that there is a need to target young women before their ideas about engineering are shaped by a culture that still believes engineering is off-limits.
One of the ways we can do this is by using female ambassadors, visiting schools and careers events to show young women the modern face of the industry and the excellent training opportunities that are available to them.
This is not just about opening up opportunities for women; there needs to be benefits for both parties. For them, of course, there is employment, security and progression.
For us, having women in the workplace brings a new perspective and a different skill set that should change the workplace dynamics for the better, bringing with it increased productivity. If we all play our part now, the future of the industry will be protected.