How to build a blossoming career in STEM
Recruiting women in STEM How should women go about building up a career in the traditionally male dominated sector of engineering and where will that take them?
There are many routes available, from academic study to apprenticeships and an engineering qualification can take them to virtually every sector in the world.
"The options for women in engineering are almost limitless," says Helen Wollaston, Director of WISE, a national campaign to increase the number of women in the UK's STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce. "One of the key messages is to keep up with physics, maths and computer sciences. There are a lot of opportunities in the labour market and many different types of entry routes but you need these core skills."
Helen is keen to point out that these days, technology is needed in almost every business, from banking to manufacturing and working in the public sector. "Most girls have no idea about this: they think engineers mend washing machines," she says. "In actual fact, they are needed for broadcasting, software, medical engineering and a great deal else."
Getting women to take the route into engineering thus needs to start when they are still at school, with events held by WISE such as Create Your Future, a workshop involving girls, parents at teachers to be held at Walssll College on 28th June, one of many such that WISE holds. "Key themes resonate with girls, such as 'making a difference' and so we show them how engineering can help drought irrigation in the developing world or how they could work in health engineering. Examples which capture their imagination," Helen says. Girls also like team work and collaboration and so are encouraged to see that engineering requires people skills.
"We run these workshops outside school hours, on Saturdays or after school," says Helen. The groups meet in a cafe-style format and the girls are encouraged to ask the role models anything they want: for example, what hours they work, who they work with, where they have been and what they like best about their jobs, in a bid to help break down the myths and stereotypes. Parents and teachers are invited as well, so that they can find out more about the opportunities available.
"Research carried out by Kings College, London has shown that a very high proportion of people who go in to science already have a scientist in the family," says Helen. "We want to help girls with no so-called 'science capital.' It can be very daunting if you feel you're in a minority. WISE connects them to a support network."
Helen also emphasises that the entry route into a career in angineering is not just through going to university. "There are a growing number of apprenticeship programmes," she says, which can in turn lead to higher education where its deemed applicable, with the employer paying the fees. "We want to get this message out to more girls and their parents. Last year only 440 girls did an engineering apprenticeship in England, compared to over 13,000 boys. But girls can use this to their advantage: their scarcity means they will be in demand."
Last year, WISE introduced a new category of WISE Apprentice to their annual awards, in order to identify role models who will inspire more girls to follow in their footsteps. Nominations for the WISE Awards 2014 are now open.
For more information go to www.wisecampaign.org.uk.