North East women who take up careers in engineering can speed up the regional economy’s recovery, an MP said in the wake of a new report.
An Institute for Public Policy Research study this week highlights a stark lack of female graduates taking up engineering.
It says North East women believe science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers are ‘not for them’ and to solve the problem, teachers need equality and inclusion training.
Researchers say North East women need more contact with role models and organisations like STEMnet also need additional funding.
An additional 87,000 graduate level engineers will be needed in the UK each year between now and 2020, but universities are only producing an annual average of 46,000, the IPPR says.
Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, who herself has had a successful engineering career, said North East women are missing out and could play a key role in driving forward the North East economy.
She said: “Engineering is a great career – well-paid, exciting, international and with the knowledge you’re changing the world for the better.
“Too many girls are missing out on that and what is more, the country and the North East in particular are missing out on the skills they could bring to help rebuild our economy and make sure we can pay our way in the world of the future.
“We need to be working at all levels to attract more young people in general and girls in particular into engineering.”
The report found only one in five physics A Level entries from the North East were female, while only two in five mathematics A Level students were female.
In 2013, just over 72,000 girls achieved grades A* to C in GCSE physics but only around 10% of these girls go on to pursue physics at A Level.
Researchers also say only 13% of applicants to engineering degrees were female in 2011/12 and that in 2012/13 one in six (17%) engineering and technology students were female at an undergraduate level.
Dalia Ben-Galim, IPPR Associate Director, said: “To better understand the significant shortage of women in engineering, it is important to map out where women, sometimes unknowingly, opt out of engineering career pathways. A large part of the problem is that at the age of 16, many girls remove themselves, which suggests the narrowing of the engineering talent pool starts well before people choose a career.
“Misconceptions about engineering continue to influence who pursues a career in this field. Engineering is still considered by many as a ‘man’s job’, and is associated with a workplace culture that may put off prospective female workers. These attitudes pose real challenges when attempting to correct the gender imbalances in the sector. To help overcome these barriers in attracting greater female talent to engineering government, schools and business all have a role to play in influencing career choices, and aspirations – particularly at the critical point where school subject choices are made.
“The discrepancy between the number of engineers the UK’s higher education system produces, and how many we need annually shows the UK has a long way to go to fill this potential skills gap. The most effective way to begin to address this gap is to tackle the low uptake of engineering degrees by women, and, further down the line, the continuation into long-term engineering careers.”