Europe’s largest infrastructure project, Crossrail, says that the UK needs to quickly address the gender gap in engineering if it hopes to meet the demand for skills to deliver future infrastructure projects. Just 8.5 per cent of engineers in the UK are women, the lowest representation of any European country. The UK is facing an unprecedented demand for engineering skills and needs to double the number of engineering graduates to 87,000 per year to meet the estimated 1 million job openings by 2020.
The demand in engineering skills is in part being driven by an unprecedented level of planned infrastructure projects abroad and in the UK, such as HS2 and Thames Tideway.
One in two state schools (49 per cent) is not sending a single female student to study A-level maths or sciences. Crossrail and its contractors have worked with around 100 schools reaching more than 10,000 students in the past year in a bid to attract more young people to engineering, including young women and leave a lasting legacy for the industry.
Rail minister Stephen Hammond said: “We are investing record amounts in infrastructure projects including Crossrail and Thameslink, and for that we need a workforce with the skills and talent to compete on a global scale. Getting young women interested in construction and engineering is vital for the future of the industry and for the UK’s long-term economic growth.”
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “As the upgrade and modernisation of our bustling transport network continues apace, London is on course to deliver Europe’s most ambitious infrastructure project. This is a fantastic time to pursue a career in engineering and our economy owes a lot to the hugely important contribution of female engineers at TfL and Crossrail. It is only right that we should recognise and applaud their remarkable work, while acknowledging that there is much more to be done to encourage more women into what historically has been a male-dominated field.”
Crossrail is hosting Engineer Your Future to mark the first National Women in Engineering Day (23 June) and has run a competition for young people to develop ideas for attracting more young women to engineering.
Thirty finalists are joining leading Crossrail female engineers to see engineering in action at Crossrail’s new Canary Wharf station. They are taking part in a networking event and meeting Transport Minister Stephen Hammond. Five winners will receive a year’s mentoring from leading Crossrail engineers.
Crossrail Chief Executive Andrew Wolstenholme said: “The UK plans to deliver an unprecedented pipeline of infrastructure projects but it must do more to attract women to address the skills demand. There is also more that we must do to challenge the gender stereotypes that continue to influence some young women and men in their selection of careers. Crossrail has a number of senior women leading our project and our male and female engineers are working across London’s schools, reaching more than 10,000 students in the past year to promote engineering and breakdown stereotypes.”
More than 70 students aged 16-19, took part in Crossrail’s Engineer Your Future challenge. Emerging themes from the students about barriers for women to purse an engineering career included: perceptions that it was a “man’s job”, family objections and discrimination. Both men and women thought integrating engineering into popular culture through TV shows, celebrity endorsement, advertising and media campaigns and promoting female role models would help raise the profile of engineering as a career for women.
Crossrail is making progress in addressing the gender gap in engineering. Nineteen per cent of graduates working on the project are women and 25 per cent of the senior management team are women.
Meanwhile, TfL and London Transport Museum will host 400 pupils at the Museum’s Acton Depot this week for Inspire Engineering Week to promote engineering as an exciting career option.
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