Engineering A New Future For Girls

23 June 2014

Engineering A New Future For Girls
UTC Sheffield engineering teacher Amy Hirst

UTC Sheffield engineering teacher Amy Hirst

When Amy Hirst was at school, she was the only girl in her year taking an A Level qualification in engineering.

One of 15 pupils from secondary schools across the city, Amy studied A Level Product Design, and attended classes at Sheffield Hallam University.

Now the UTC Sheffield teacher is on a mission to change attitudes. Amy, 24, wants to encourage more young women to take up a career in the sector, where there is a dramatic shortfall of skilled talent going into the industry.

Today, Monday June 23rd is the first ever National Women in Engineering Day. It has been set up by the Women’s Engineering Society. The aim is to celebrate the work that women do in engineering and showcase the careers available.

“Engineers change the world, they help to solve its problems. I love engineering because it is creative and exciting, practical and theoretical, and involves problem solving,” said Amy, who has a BSc in Product Design, and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education in engineering, from Sheffield Hallam University.

“Engineering involves designing and making things. It’s very rewarding to see a product evolve from design to production. It’s really important that we tell girls and boys what engineering really involves, and explain the fantastic career opportunities out there, to dispel myths. I advise young people to keep an open mind.”

UTC Sheffield is for students aged 14 to 19. The first institution of its kind in Yorkshire, it specialises in two sectors where there are regional opportunities for business growth. They are the advanced engineering and manufacturing, and the creative and digital industries.

Students complete mainstream qualifications, including GCSEs and A Levels, as well as technical ones. Employers shape the curriculum so that work projects and skills development are part of it. Year 10 places are still available for courses starting this September.

Amy teaches engineering to Year 10 and Year 12 students, and as part of their curriculum they work with employers on industry projects. One of those involves Rolls-Royce, which manufactures products for land, air and sea. Their staff attend the UTC to lead some of the classes.

Students have been researching, designing and developing a fuel pump, and they will present their findings to Rolls-Royce, “It’s great to see how their learning relates to the real world,” added Amy.

Key facts:

  • Only 9% of engineers in the UK are female, compared to 26% in Sweden, 20% in Italy and 18% in Spain. According to Engineering UK’s State of Engineering 2014 report, the UK does not have either the current capacity within the education system or the rate of growth needed to meet the forecast demand for skilled engineers by 2020.
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that the UK economy will require 830,000 scientists, engineers and technologists by 2020. Attracting girls as well as boys to study for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at school is seen as crucial to meeting these skills requirements.
  • A national survey by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, published last month (May 2014), found that girls attending UTCs are more confident of getting jobs in engineering compared to their counterparts at mainstream schools.
  • The survey found that girls at English schools think boys have a much better chance of getting jobs in engineering with 43% saying they have the same opportunities in the industry. As a result, 3% would consider a career in engineering. At UTCs however, 65%, of girls believe they have the same job opportunities as boys in engineering.
  • The surveys also show a difference in how confident girls feel about getting a job when they leave education. Almost double the number of girls attending UTCs, 83%, felt they had gained valuable practical skills compared to just 49% at other mainstream schools.

Lord Baker, Chair of Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity behind UTCs, said: “The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering. We have to challenge out-dated ideas that careers in engineering, science and technology are more suitable for boys than girls. “Girls at university technical colleges are leading the way, demonstrating the kind of talent, commitment and interest in these subjects that this country so desperately needs. It’s vital that this message is championed in other schools as well.”

Philip Greenish CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The UK needs many more people with skills in innovation, creativity and enterprise – skills that are fundamental to engineering and key to the UK’s competitive edge.

“UTCs are superbly positioned to reach out to young people from all backgrounds, male and female, and to bring to life the wonderful opportunities available from a career in engineering.”