THE BLOG
05/11/2013 07:16 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Engineering the Next Generation

I have worked in engineering, and engineering related fields, all my life and like most people who work in this industry I am extremely passionate about what I do.

So why do we find it so hard to get young people, especially women, interested in an engineering related career? Women make up only 8.7 per cent of UK engineering workforce, although some areas like environment or transport planning have higher proportions.

It is a hot media topic, and an issue that is very close to my own heart. Some big names have weighed into the debate recently - James Dyson, MP Vince Cable, Lord Davies and Professor Barry Clarke, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers to mention a few - but as far as I can tell little is being done in way of on the ground solutions, solutions that ultimately we in the industry must implement.

Although I strongly believe the skills issue facing engineering and construction is not only about increasing female representation - we must create a diverse and strong workforce for the future across the board - it seemed like a good place to begin. So, we appealed to our technical female employees, who represent one fifth of our workforce for their insights.

And we weren't disappointed, our findings suggested that lack of knowledge of what engineering actually is could be our main problem. This came as a surprise as the common misperceptions of the profession being 'dirty' or a 'man's job' tend to be the default position for why we struggle to attract in talent, particularly women.

It was the view of our technical females that we need to better educate teachers and careers advisors and adapt the curriculum to put more emphasis on STEM subjects in the classroom and when deciding next steps after school. This makes excellent sense to me, and it was further verified by the fact that 64 per cent of our women engineers told us that they were made aware of engineering as a career choice at school.

At WSP we are doing everything we can to ensure we are 'growing our own' and investing in our future leaders and talent now, recognising that they will become the mid-level engineers we are likely to be short of in coming years.

Despite our best efforts, I remain concerned that if we don't attract enough young people into the profession the workforce won't be strong or diverse enough in the future to deliver on the challenges society will face. There is an enormous pipeline of work coming into our industry if Government plans are to be believed and we must be equipped to deliver on it.

But I am also extremely positive that if we act now we can change history. We have a fantastic sector full of inspirational projects and opportunities; we just need to make sure we are telling people about them.