The worlds of engineering and manufacturing must dispel the myth they are men-only preserves to reach their full potential, a renowned business boss has urged ahead of the launch of a new app aimed at recruiting women.
Geoff Ford, chairman of international exporter Ford Aerospace and Ford Component Manufacturing, said misconceptions must be overcome – and he is acting to correct the imbalance.
Women fill just 9% of UK engineering jobs, the lowest rate in Europe, compared to 30% in Latvia and 20% in Sweden.
Ford invited 18 sixth-formers from Barnard Castle School in County Durham, including six girls, to tour his Ford Aerospace plant in South Shields which makes hi-tech precision components.
And he has also been instrumental in the development of a mobile app to showcase engineering and manufacturing as valid career choices for women. It is being launched nationwide by CfBT which delivers the National Careers Service in the North East.
Its Challenge Occupational Gender Stereotype (COGS) app will be installed on Apple iPads used by hundreds of careers advisers throughout the country to give those weighing up their employment options an instant overview of the sectors.
As well as Ford, expert insight is supplied by Brenda Readman-Bell, finance director of J Barbour and Sons, Dianne Sharp, former MD of SCM Pharma and now director of the CBI in the North East, and Pamela Petty, of Ebac, a market leader in water cooler and dehumidifier manufacturing.
Ford said: “There is a popular misconception in this country that engineering and manufacturing are for boys and girls should become hairdressers or such like, but there is no reason for this at all.
“There are at least 20 career paths in manufacturing, including engineers, finance, IT and product control and women can do them all.
“Girls are not being encouraged to take up these careers, but they should be.
“This new app, as well as initiatives like visits to engineering companies such as Ford, will hopefully go some way to correcting this imbalance and to show that manufacturing and engineering are very positive career paths.
“To engage with schoolchildren is a very positive step as it allows them to gain a real sense of what it is like to work in the manufacturing sector.”
The Barnard Castle School group were given a display of 3D modelling by Ford Aerospace quality manager Ian Byrne, and a talk on career opportunities for women and the supply chain by Carol Hall, Ford’s group supply chain manager.
And Moira Shaftoe, of Made in the North East, which acts as a link between schools and employers, spoke about careers in manufacturing.
The pupils’ visit followed a talk by Mr Ford about the Ford Engineering Academy to around 100 sixth-formers at the school in March.
The academy, run as a partnership with South Tyneside College, launched last September to train teenagers and help overcome a national sector skills gap.
It has been hailed a success after its first group of 11 trainees passed the six-month learning programme, which has a six-week work experience element.