The UK construction sector is a critical part of the engineering industry and the economy, having increased output by 1.5% in 2016. However, it faces more and more challenges as the UK undergoes dramatic changes to its infrastructure. With major construction projects in the planning and construction phases such as the expansion of London Heathrow Airport, construction of the High Speed 2 rail line between London and the West Midlands and the future construction of the Crossrail 2 line in London, a plethora of skills will be required to deliver this huge volume of work. Projects within the transport sector have a current labour demand for 160,000 people in construction alone. However, in an already skills-short environment (69% of engineers say there is a skills shortage in the sector they work in, Matchtech Voice of the Workforce 2017 report), the people responsible for recruiting for these projects will face a considerable challenge.


One way to improve the UK’s chances of having enough talent in place to deliver these incredible infrastructure projects is to consider how to attract and retain more women in the workforce. With females representing around 10% of the engineering workforce, inspiring more women to take up a career in this profession could help to bridge the current skills gap. And women are already making a huge contribution to construction as we witnessed at this year’s Women in Construction Awards.


Earlier this month, Grahame Carter, Managing Director, Matchtech attended the annual Women in Construction Awards in Manchester. Reflecting on the event, Grahame said:


“Events like the Women in Construction Awards are vital platforms for recognising women in construction, raising the profile of its stars and demonstrating what a career in engineering can be like.”


One winner, Lauren Chappell, an LV Underground Joiner at distribution network operator UK Power Networks (UKPN) who took home ‘Best Apprentice – 25 and over’ agrees with Grahame’s sentiments, saying she believes we must celebrate women in construction “to encourage others that women can be successful in construction and achieve great things”.


In our Voice of the Workforce research, which surveyed more than 2,500 engineers about their views on the engineering industry and their career within it, more than half of engineers (51%) said they believe the workforce is becoming more gender diverse.


Another winner, Sophie Payne, Senior Tunnel Engineer at design, engineering and project management consultancy Atkins Ltd, winner of Matchtech’s sponsored award ‘Engineer of the Year – Civils/Infrastructure’ comments on this and how the Women in Construction Awards showcases this positivity:


“Construction is still a male-dominated industry, but this is gradually improving and attitudes are changing. There are more women rising to senior positions and demonstrating that it is possible to have a successful career in construction. This is a great opportunity to showcase to future and young engineers that there are opportunities in the industry and to be a role model to others.  Hopefully we can inspire the next generation of engineers.”


Whilst it is clear that attitudes are changing, and we are seeing a rise of women in engineering, according to the EngineeringUK 2017 report, currently only 1 in 8 of the engineering workforce is female, highlighting that the efforts to attract girls and women into engineering are still falling short.


Grahame Carter, who presented the Engineer of the Year – Civils/Infrastructure award explains why the industry needs to continue promoting engineering and construction as a desirable career for women:


“Over the next 10 years there is an abundance of exciting long-term opportunities for engineers to be a part of in construction in the UK. Projects such as HS2, Hinckley Point and Heathrow need all hands on deck to be completed, and if we can inspire more women to transition into this sector, the whole industry has more of a chance to complete the works.”


Boys are 3.5 times more likely to study A-Level Physics than girls (England, Wales and N Ireland) and 5 times more likely to gain an engineering and technology degree. At university level, female HE UK engineering students are strongly under represented at around 15%. Female engineers, like Dr Giulia Privitera, Innovation Engineer at UKPN and winner of ‘Project Manager of the Year’ at the 2017 Women in Construction Awards tells us about the diversity of her role and the positive impact it brings:


“My current role in industry is exciting because it allows me to combine the analytical and logical thinking coming from my technical background with management and strong interpersonal skills to unite a project team and deliver results. It’s important to me that I’m resolving and tacking practical challenges with solutions that can have a truly positive impact on people’s lives.”


According to the 2017 Spring Budget there is now more reason to celebrate; with a higher proportion of women in the UK workforce than ever before and the promise of £5 million new funding for returnships to help people return back to work after taking a career break.


Steps are being taken to address gender diversity within engineering but it requires everyone employed within the industry to shift attitudes and behaviours to make engineering and construction a more inclusive industry and an industry which is fit to deliver the projects it has planned.


To read the full interviews for some of the winners from the Women in Construction Awards, please click below:

 

Sophie Payne | Senior Tunnel Engineer, Atkins Ltd | Winner of Matchtech’s sponsored Engineering of the Year – Civils/Infrastructure award

Dr Giulia Privitera | Innovation Engineer, UKPN | Winner of Project Manager of the Year

Lauren Chappell | LV Underground Joiner, UKPN | Winner of Best Apprentice – 25 and over

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