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Engineering and construction: gender stereotypes, imbalances and the skills gap

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‘The Perfect Talent Storm’

At the end of September, Hays plc published The Hays Global Skills Index 2014 together with Oxford Economics. The report, titled ‘The Perfect Talent Storm’, indicates that the skills gap is widening. Economic growth has compounded the problem – as demand for labour picks up, the lack of workers with the high-skills required becomes increasingly evident. According to the report, this issue is particularly prevalent in developed economies, such as the UK, Germany and the US, where economic activity is slowly returning to pre-crisis levels. Denmark, Italy and Poland are among the countries where the talent mismatch (the gap between the skills needed by employers and those that workers can offer) has increased. Hays goes on to note that countries that experienced high talent mismatch in 2013 have only seen the situation worsen in 2014, e.g. the UK, US, Spain, Japan and Portugal. The engineering and IT sectors are named as two of the main areas where employers are struggling to find employees with the relevant skills.

The Hays Global Skills Index makes it very clear that we now have the conditions for a perfect storm across global labour markets,” said Alistair Cox, Chief Executive of Hays. “This is the first year since we launched the Hays Global Skills Index that we are seeing evidence of economic good news across the board. The flip side, however, is that labour market pressures are building. Demand for skilled workers is outpacing supply. If this is not addressed, we will see opportunities slip away from individuals, businesses and entire nations as jobs go unfilled and business growth stalls.”

“There are no quick fixes and conditions in global labour markets will probably get worse before they get better, but we have to act now. Governments must take the long-term view and ensure immigration policy and employment legislation is sensitive to employer needs. Businesses, in the meantime need to take responsibility for developing the future workforce and work hand-in-hand with education providers to develop tomorrow’s talent pool,” added Cox.

Graduate-level engineers

At the same time as the Hays Global Skills Index 2014 was released, IPPR published its new report, ‘Women in engineering: fixing the talent pipeline’. The findings suggest that an additional 87 000 graduate-level engineers will be required in the UK between 2014 and 2020. However, just 46 000 engineering graduates are produced each year. IPPR proposes that women can fill this gap, if a number of measures are taken to encourage them to study engineering at degree level and subsequently enter into an engineering career. The report identifies the lack of girls taking STEM subjects at A-level as the initial barrier to engineering careers. In 2013, just one in five students studying physics at A-level were female and just two in five maths A-level entrants were female. Around 13% of applicants to engineering degrees in 2011/2012 were female and of those who went on to study engineering and technology at an undergraduate level in 2012/2013, just 17% were female. The second barrier is the transition from education to employment.

To address the gender imbalance, IPPR has recommended initiatives such as industry mentors for female students, greater engagement between employers and students, as well as improved careers education in schools.

“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,” stated Dalia Ben-Galim, IPPR Associate Director.

Welcoming women and challenging stereotypes

Several companies and industry organisations have been making their own efforts to lessen the skills gap and also encourage more women to enter engineering and construction careers:

  • The UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) runs the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, recently announcing the shortlisted candidates.
  • In June, the UK’s Skills and Enterprise Minister announced £10 million in funding for the ‘Developing Women Engineers’ and ‘Improving Engineering Careers’ schemes. An extra £10 million that will be used to develop engineering skills in smaller companies will be available this autumn.
  • PPC Ltd was named ‘Top Gender Empowered Company’ in the Manufacturing and Engineering category at the 11th Annual Standard Bank Top Women Awards. The South African cement company has introduced a range of gender equality initiatives, such as the Women’s Forum.
  • Earlier this year, Terex held a ‘Women in Manufacturing Day’, which gave visitors the opportunity to tour its UK manufacturing facility and talk to staff about employment opportunities.
  • According to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), Richard Burr, a builder and a contestant on the extremely popular UK television show ‘The Great British Bake Off’ (TGBBO), is also helping to overturn gender stereotypes in the construction industry. Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB said: “The FMB is extremely proud that our member Richard Burr is challenging stereotypes about builders. Today's modern builders are often multi-talented as demonstrated by Richard's brilliant performance on TGBBO. […] The building industry offers young people a diverse and rewarding career and it's time old fashioned negative attitudes are changed to reflect the thousands of building professionals who work in the building industry.”

Edited from various sources by

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