27/11/2017 13:36 GMT | Updated 27/11/2017 13:36 GMT

How The Industry Can Get More Girls Into Engineering

I used to think engineering was a ‘job for the boys’. So it’s hard to believe I’m now in my third year of a technical apprenticeship and well on my way to becoming a qualified engineer, with a personal goal to make engineering appeal to everyone.

I adore my work and have been lucky enough to be involved in many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) events, where I teach students from a range of backgrounds and year groups. This year I’ve also been shortlisted as a finalist in the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards in December which is hugely rewarding and exciting.

One event that most appealed to me was an initiative called ‘Girls into Engineering’ hosted by the Smallpeice Trust. Over this four-day course, my team and I taught 50 year eight to nine girls how to make a robot, giving these girls a small insight into what engineering is – solving problems through creative thinking.

Although the girls who attended this course had been selected for having shown an interest in a STEM subject at school, many hadn’t considered a career in engineering. However, after completing the four days, 74% of the girls had changed their mind. It was incredibly satisfying to see these girls find confidence in their abilities to make great things happen.

Young girls are often afraid of failure and, although there is a similar take-up of, and achievement in, core STEM GCSE subjects among boys and girls, girls often go on to opt for the traditionally ‘creative’ subjects like English and History. Yet creativity is the basis for innovation and at the heart of engineering. Every touch point in our daily lives has an element of engineering in it and we must make young people aware of that.

EngineeringUK recently predicted we’d need 1.8m engineers and technicians to fill the skills gap by 2025. Here’s my advice for engineers and the industry on how we can fill that shortage.

Get out there

Get involved in STEM events and activities, encourage staff to play an active role in engaging the next generation. We’re part of an exciting industry making fundamental changes to the world we live in, but we work behind the scenes so not many people make the connection.

Engage with girls at an earlier age

Research tells us most girls have dismissed engineering by the age of 14, so unfortunately, this results in only 15.8% of engineering and technology undergraduates in the UK being female. Everyone has the potential to become an engineer but by the time employers reach out to engineering students at a university level, only 1 in 6 of those they’ve reached out to will be female.

Host open days

Invite students to experience your company behind the scenes. If a young person can picture themselves working in an engineering environment, they’ll be more likely to consider it as a career.

Engage with parents and teachers

Parents and teachers have a huge impact on a child’s perspective of a career, so it’s important to engage with them too. They will be more inclined to encourage their child/student to pursue it if they’re confident they understand engineering themselves.

Recognise star pupils

If a student shows promise, offer them work experience, invite them to open days, and mentor them through their education.

Don’t just give information - tell stories

As useful as facts and figures are, they often aren’t memorable. It’s the real-life stories that engage young people so send employees with inspiring stories to careers events.

Sophie Caffrey is a finalist for this year’s ‘Young Woman Engineer of the Year’ Awards, hosted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.