All of the shortlisted candidates for the First Woman Awards were interviewed last week and the waiting room was both a scary and interesting place to be. I was party to several thought provoking conversations, but none more so than the debate around how to get more youngsters interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.
The CBI 2012 Education and Skills Survey reported that 42% of employers requiring staff with STEM skills were having difficulty recruiting and that this was expected to increase over the coming years. Having tried to recruit for several engineering roles at Gatwick in the past few months I can concur that there is indeed a lack of quality young candidates out there. The good news is that there are some amazing initiatives to try and get young people interested in STEM subjects and engaged with the possibilities to which they might lead. For example; I am hugely impressed that in the last few weeks Yateley School have actually test flown their aircraft in the 'Schools Build-a-Plane Challenge'; and for any youngsters who want to work within the aerospace sector there is an online competition to find those who show the most aptitude in key competencies sought by employers in the aerospace industry; for those students with more of a mechanical or automotive aspiration there is the amazing Formula Student competition; and there is also a plethora of STEM related activities linked to the 'Big Bang' events.
Unfortunately, there was not such a rich tapestry of engaging events when I was making those vital decisions about which subjects to take for A' level, or which degree to do. However, I can clearly recall a Careers Fair that was held at my school at which I had a very illuminating conversation with a smart young Army Captain. She told me all about her job as an engineering manager for helicopter maintenance and I was staggered that a job in engineering did not actually involve having to be up to your elbows in grease and oil every day and that a woman was enjoying it! After that discussion I then looked through all of the engineering degrees that were available and ended up being sponsored by the Royal Air Force to read Mechanical Engineering at Bath University - something that I would never have considered prior to the brief conversation with that Army Captain.
I was very lucky to have that crucial conversation at the right time and am therefore passionate about trying to inspire others into engineering - especially girls who may not immediately consider it as a career. To make sure that we are playing our part at Gatwick we have taken several key initiatives in recent months: Our apprenticeship scheme was approved by the Institution of Engineering and Technology at the end of last year and we have increased our apprenticeship intake this year; we have created Technician Engineer posts to up-skill some of our technicians; we are one of the business sponsors for the Crawley STEMfest on the 2nd July which is part of the Big Bang South East event; and finally, we have hosted several students at Gatwick who are carrying out studies into engineering or infrastructure management.
I will definitely continue to engage in as many activities as possible to encourage and inspire youngsters to take STEM subjects and go on into engineering. I urge any of my fellow engineers who are fortunate enough to recall a conversation or activity that drew them into the subject to do the same so that we do not end up with the predicted scarcity of vital engineering skill in the UK.
Dawn Elson is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.