While there's no doubt that the country has come a long way in terms of gender equality in the workplace, there are still industries where women are significantly under represented. If we look at the engineering sector, for example, only 8% of engineers in the UK are women . In fact, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.
Despite these statistics, the opportunities for women in engineering are huge. The sector is booming and in 2012, engineering made up over a quarter of the turnover of all UK businesses . Even more encouraging is that EngineeringUK estimates that the sector will need another 1.86 million people with engineering skills by 2020 . This means the country needs to double the number of engineering graduates and apprentices over the next few years.
With so many opportunities available, I want to help inspire other women to consider a career in engineering by sharing my experiences and my story of how I became an engineer.
From a young age I was always interested in fixing things and problem-solving. I was fascinated with taking things apart and getting to the bottom of how things work beneath the surface. Despite my interests, as a teenage girl leaving secondary school, I struggled to see how I could turn my hobby into a career and at the time, engineering didn't cross my mind.
After a number of years working nine-to-five at a desk job, I felt I wasn't putting my skillset and interests to their best use and in my late twenties I started looking into what options were open to me. At first, I thought going into a new industry as a mature apprentice was going to be really difficult and expensive to do but then someone told me about the British Gas Apprenticeship scheme. I looked it up online and decided to apply. It was really simple to do and I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. To my surprise, my application was successful and I made the first step on the path to become an engineer.
When I started training as an apprentice in 2007, I concentrated on servicing which involved both theoretical and practical work. During my training which took a total of eight months, each month I would spend two weeks at the British Gas training academy and two weeks working alongside a trained engineer in the field. I took exams and assessments throughout the training and by the end of the course, gained a NVQ level two in Domestic Natural Gas Maintenance.
After spending six months working as a servicing engineer in the field, I d returned to the training academy to complete a seven month theoretical and practice course to gain further qualifications and become a fully qualified technical engineer. At the end of my training, I gained my NVQ level three in Domestic Natural Gas Maintenance and an NIC EIC certification in Installation and Servicing of Domestic Unvented Hot Water Storage Systems.
Becoming a fully qualified technical engineer was an incredible experience and I've never looked back! There are amazing aspects to my job - no two days are the same; you are out and about meeting people from all walks of life and it's so rewarding knowing that people rely on you. I feel a great sense of achievement being able to service and repair customer's home and it enables me to develop my skills and knowledge every day. Great responsibility comes with the role as people's safety is in my hands. I do also have regular customers who request my help; some women definitely like the choice of having another woman in their home.
I feel proud to be representing women within the engineering industry and would recommend it as a career choice for any woman who feels they'd be good at a hands-on job. I believe that to help close the gender gap within the sector, more has to be done to encourage girls at a young age in schools to get involved and interested in sectors like engineering.
Moreover, as young women look to enter the workforce, we should be encouraging them not to pigeon-hole themselves; especially if like me they don't feel their skills lie within traditionally female sectors. Apprenticeship schemes are a fantastic way for people to try their hand at something more practical, and it's great time to be part of the industry. I only wish I had known about schemes like this as a young girl as I could have followed my passion at a younger age.
As we look to the future and the opportunities that engineering will bring to the UK workforce, I am hopeful to see a new generation of female engineers emerge and I hope this encourages people out there to consider the path I chose.