Huge shortage of engineering skills in the UK - with women making only 9 per cent of workforce

The shortage of engineering skills in the workplace has jumped by more than a third in the last two years. According to industry figures, there were vacancies for 40,000 people with engineering skills in 2014. That figure has leapt to more than 55,000 in 2015, the last year for which statistics are available. 

The huge shortage of engineering talent across industries including construction, civil engineering, energy, electronics and manufacturing is being highlighted as businesses across the sector are getting together today to promote National Women in Engineering Day.

Companies as diverse as HS2, the project to build a new high speed rail line, BAE Systems, the defence supplier, and O2, the mobile phone business, are holding events across the company to appeal to women and girls to join the sector.

Women make up only 9 per cent of the engineering workforce and only 6 per cent of registered engineers and technicians are women. 

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10 per cent, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30 per cent.

At the centre of activities for National Women in Engineering Day has been the publication of a list by the Daily Telegraph of the top 50 women in engineering. 

The list is topped by rising star Roma Agrawal, an award-winning structural engineer at Interserve who worked on The Shard, one of Europe’s tallest skyscrapers, and many other prestigious buildings.

The roll-call includes many senior engineers’ names such as Dame Ann Dowling, who is president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Naomi Climer, president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and Dame Judith Hackitt, former chair of the Health and Safety Executive and now Chair of EEF, the manufacturers’ body. It also features Chi Onwurah, MP – the only female engineer in the House of Commons.

One of the recruiting problems for the engineering sector is that people do not recognise that engineers are required in many sectors, outside the traditional roles in construction, energy and transport.

The top 50 list includes names from hotel company Hilton Worldwide and the Merlin Entertainment Company, which owns Legoland theme parks and Alton Towers.

Jaqueline Donovan, managing director of Donovan Waste, which operates in construction says: “I’m starting to see more women coming through the professional end of the industry – structural engineers and quantity surveyors. They are great problem solvers, they weigh things up and it leads to better designs being brought to the table.” 

Unfortunately the proportion of women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012 and in 2013/14, women accounted for only 3.8 per cent of Engineering apprenticeship starts and 1.7 per cent of Construction Skills starts.

However, there may be some signs of change, last year a study from the Institute of Engineering and Technology showed that half of the STEM enrolments at university are female and just over 30% of those are made up of engineering, technology and computer science undergraduates.

There are also hopes that high-level apprenticeships could persuade many girls to begin training in engineering that will lead directly to employment, rather than going to university. 

However, there also exists a significant gender imbalance in apprenticeships, which needs to be addressed urgently if more women are to be prepared to take up engineering jobs. 

Kate Morris, director of transport planning at civil engineering giant AECOM, says: “The growing gender imbalance at apprenticeship level must be addressed now in order to avoid sleepwalking into future diversity problems. Disentangling the reality of today’s apprenticeships from outdated perceptions of blue collar manual labour will be part of the solution, along with efforts targeted at those who are harder to reach.”

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