Back to school

Back in 1997 when I started my degree in civil engineering I had a bit of a shock. Surely going to University meant sleeping until noon, eating cereal for lunch before watching Countdown and embarking upon an hour or two of lectures before heading off for a coffee? Not if you study engineering.

My graduation photo from 2001. Fortunately the robe hides a multitude of crimes against fashion

The timetable was a jam packed 9-5 schedule of maths, mechanics, geotechnics, structures, surveying, hydraulics, materials, water and wastewater engineering, environmental engineering, project management, environmental law and project finance. Not to mention of course the project elements of the course that took over weekends and a residential week in the Lake District that was so full we could barely get 6 hours sleep a night. We were out at dawn surveying the topography and up until midnight creating maps and reports. Observing my workload and long hours my sympathetic housemates nicknamed me “The Professor” while they watched Sex in the City and drank white wine, but I digress. The point is that the hard work has certainly paid off. In an article I recently wrote for Infrastructure Intelligence I discovered that the female engineers that I studied with at UMIST, have gone on to have brilliant careers with a wide array of organisations and companies. The full article can be read here.

They were also unanimous about what a great choice it was to study engineering – even the few that chose alternative career paths.

“A civil engineering degree gives you a broad background and a lot of the subjects such as project management, problem solving and the strong numeracy focus are useful whatever career you go into,” Caroline Dunn, executive, employers liability and general liability, Lloyds of London.

I am also a big believer in giving credit where it is due and a couple of companies really stood out for their efforts to ensure that the industry remains attractive for female professionals. Consultant Atkins in particular has been working hard to create a flexible working environment so that professionals can remain with the company, which Katy Brown’s experience really highlights. Similarly Arup have ensured that Sarah Humphrey can achieve a sustainable work/life balance.

What the article shows is the great variety that studying a civil engineering degree can offer, both within and outside the industry. And for me reconnecting with former classmates has been lovely, and I hope we stay in touch.

Women in engineering

This section didn’t make the final cut. Given the personal interest I had in this I wrote it approximately 1000 words too long! So this gives a little more context to the research:

The lack of women in engineering became a political issue in 2014 with the government launching a new multi-million pound campaign in June, to encourage more women into engineering roles. “I am pleased to announce that the government is providing £10 million to help women progress as engineers. We need to move away from the perception that engineering is a ‘man’s world’. Without women pursuing careers in engineering, UK companies are missing out on a vast pool of talent,” said Minister for Women Nicky Morgan, announcing the new funding, which will be directed into training initiatives.

The government’s announcement was a direct response to the Review of Engineering Skills by Professor John Perkins in November 2013 which issued “a call to action” to both government and industry to do more to address the skills gap. It highlighted the importance of engineering, from transportation and buildings to energy and manufacturing, and urged businesses and government to do more to encourage young people and women into these industries. This was followed by the  2014 skills survey from the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) which showed that women contribute to just 6 percent of the engineering workforce.

Figures from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) show that as of April 2014 there were 9876 female members of the institution out of 86,678 total members. “Women now represent 10.7% of ICE’s total membership and female applications to ICE are slowly rising, with graduate numbers at 18%,” says Nick Baveystock, ICE Director General. “This improvement is encouraging, and our under 19s engagement work and collaboration with other bodies and Government has led to some excellent initiatives which have helped to raise awareness. The fact remains however, that there is still a disproportionate balance of male and female engineers, and we need to do better in attracting women into the profession, and retaining them. There is a commercial as well as a social imperative to right the imbalance and we should all strive to ensure that careers in the engineering profession are equally accessible.”

To this end the inaugural National Women in Engineering Day on June 23rd focussed attention on the great opportunities for women in the industry. This followed on from WSP structural engineer Roma Agrawal shone a light on the profession when she was selected to be among Marks & Spencer Leading Ladies in a global campaign earlier this year. And the Institution of Engineering and Technology launched its 2014 Young Women Engineer of the Year awards with a renewed emphasis on finding female role models to help address the UK science and engineering skills crisis, estimated at 87,000 engineers within the next decade.

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