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Women remain an untapped resource within the engineering profession

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Marguerite Sayers

President, Engineers Ireland

Over 94% of engineering employers in Ireland report skills shortages as the main barrier to growth within the engineering sector. It has never been more important to inspire and encourage more people, especially young women, to study engineering at third level and to choose a career in engineering.

Ireland’s current and future economic and infrastructural needs require a drastic increase in the number of third-level engineering graduates and professional engineering apprentices, according to the latest findings from Engineers Ireland’s Engineering 2019 report.

“Our recent survey of members has indicated that over 6,000 new jobs will be created in the engineering sector this year. While this demand is positive, engineering employers are facing an acute shortage of available talent to take up these employment opportunities. The reality is that the number of students moving into third-level engineering and technology sectors needs to be much larger to meet employers’ future needs for graduates,” says Marguerite Sayers, President, Engineers Ireland

Tomorrow’s problem-solvers may not even be in secondary school yet

She continues: “at Engineers Ireland, we recognise our future engineering innovators who aspire to solve global issues may not even be in the engineering field yet – they may be just starting out their education journey in our primary and secondary schools. Our aim is to encourage more students, particularly young females, to pursue engineering at third level because Ireland – and the world – needs more engineers.

Women and girls must believe they can fill the roles

Inspiring students to visualise themselves working as engineers through outreach initiatives will be vital not only in addressing skills shortages, but dealing with the stubborn gender gap in the sector. 

Women largely remain an untapped resource in the engineering profession.

“Gender imbalance in engineering badly needs to be tackled or we will miss the clear opportunity that exists to harness the very specific creativity and innovation skills that are the hallmark of female engineers.

Parents, teachers and careers advisers must support girls into STEM

“The statistics in Ireland are stark: just 13% of engineering graduates in Ireland are female. Our research with members has found that 86% of engineers believe that parents, teachers and career guidance counsellors can do more to break down the societal barriers to girls studying engineering-related subjects.

“The research also found that more than half believed that outdated attitudes, among both women and men generally, are still obstacles to women entering the engineering sector.”

However, there is good news on the horizon, as the gender gap has narrowed over the past five years.

“There is a growing interest in STEM among young women, but as we saw from our Engineering 2019 report, men still greatly outnumber women at each stage of engineering higher education and apprenticeships.

“It is incumbent on teachers, policymakers, parents and us all in industry, to play our part in building further awareness and interest in STEM, and particularly engineering, as a creative and diverse profession among young female students,” she concludes.

What Engineers Ireland are doing:

“Engineers Ireland is a leading advocate for STEM education, inspiring curiosity, exploration, creativity and problem-solving in children from an early age.

“Through our STEPS Programme – funded under Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover programme, Call, and supported by industry leaders Arup, Intel, TII and ESB – we have developed a number of hands-on workshops and programmes that aim to spark children’s imaginations about STEM and provide them with role models and real-world opportunities to engage with the engineering community,” Ms Sayers says.

The STEPS programme focuses its core activities on four key initiatives, aimed at primary and secondary school children:

1.Engineers Week, which promotes engineering as a career choice and the importance of the profession to Ireland

2. The Young Engineers Award, a competition for 3rd and 4th class pupils to find Ireland’s next generation of engineering talent

3. The Engineering Your Future Programme, providing Transition Year Students with an immersive experience among engineering academia and organisations

4. Engineering Girl Guides and Brownie Badges, an initiative developed with the Irish Girl Guides.

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