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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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How can you dream of being an engineer if you don’t know what one is?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

At a meeting held recently at the Advanced Manufacturing Resource Centre (AMRC) Meg made the following remarks.

 

Welcome to the South Yorkshire launch of “Unlocking Potential: perspectives on women in science, engineering and technology”. I want to thank the AMRC for hosting and organising today’s event, and my fellow panellists for agreeing to come and speak. Pam Liversidge has kindly agreed to chair our discussion, not only the first woman President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, but also now the first ever female Master Cutler.

 

As editor of “Unlocking Potential” it would be remiss not to thank the contributors to the publication. The important sponsorship by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Physics, and not forgetting the Smith Institute for publishing it.

 

“How can you dream of being an engineer if you don’t know what one is?” To my mind one of the memorable sentences from the publication, it goes to the heart of the issue. How do we entice young people into engineering? It’s a problem for both genders but is most acute for girls due to the traditional image of engineering, combined with the paucity of role models.

 

One way would be to listen to the enthusiasm of the young women who have made it in these professions. I am struck by their desire to take on a challenging career that could give job satisfaction.

 

We need to address structural issues early enough in schools. Children learn what a ‘woman’s job’ and a ‘man’s job’ are, and make their choices accordingly. Once set on a particular educational path it can be hard to change, particularly when it requires tackling a new set of subjects.

 

We have to change this situation, but it will be wasted effort if the culture in the workplace doesn’t also change. To quote briefly from my introduction:

 

“Living in the UK in the 21st century, it is difficult to comprehend the scale of sexist remarks and outright bullying that some women experience at work, or how they can feel so isolated that they leave the profession for which they have studied and trained.”

 

We know that in businesses and university departments around 70% of women with relevant qualifications leave, not to return. In 2008, there were 620,000 female science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates of working age in the UK - but less than a third, 185,000, were employed in SET occupations. In 2010 nearly 100,000 female STEM graduates were either unemployed or economically inactive.

 

This is a huge waste, at a time when a shortage of skilled workers holds back research and manufacturing. The cost to our economy is significant. As the world gets ever more competitive it is precisely these areas of science, engineering and technology that we need to develop and grow.

 

This situation is worrying and much has been written about the problem, and initiatives have been put in place some of which are described in the publication. I hope “Unlocking Potential” and our discussion today will contribute to how we change things and encourage fresh thinking about the problem. 

 

As I concluded in my introduction:

 

“The figures for women in science, engineering and technology careers remain stubbornly low, the skills shortage is well known, and the importance of these disciplines to our future economic growth is uncontested. Nothing less than a concerted, determined and persistent approach by all will be sufficient to achieve the transformation that is required.”

 

The history of engineering and manufacturing in Sheffield is well known. This area should be ideally placed to take up the challenge. South Yorkshire could not just be a good place to study and work in the engineering sector, but become the number one choice for women engineers, for women research scientists, for women working in technology.

 

With your ideas, your experiences and enthusiasm today could be the start of realising that ambition.

 

The publication is available at:

http://www.smith-institute.org.uk/file/Women%20in%20SET.pdf

 


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