For many years, across the world, it has been recognized that there is a skills shortage in engineering. There simply aren’t enough engineers required to complete large-scale investment projects of local, national, and international importance.

Across the U.S., targeted efforts have been made to improve participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in the past decade. Significant progress has been made — it’s suggested students are now twice as likely to study STEM fields compared to previous generations1 — however, the number of roles requiring STEM expertise is growing at a rate that exceeds current workforce capacity. 

In manufacturing alone, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute predict that the current skills gap could leave as many as 2.1 million jobs unfilled by 2030, costing the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion2.

One of the ways that has been identified to address the skills shortage is to encourage more young women to choose STEM subjects during high-school education — as there is currently a large gender imbalance in both STEM study and careers in engineering and other STEM-related roles. Consider the following: 

  • As of 2019, women comprise just 27% of the STEM workforce, despite making up 50% of the total college-educated workforce3
  • Female scientists and engineers tend to be concentrated in different occupations than male scientist, with relatively low shares in engineering (15%) and computer and mathematical sciences (26%)4 
  • Responses to the fifth annual STEM survey by Emerson found that 2 out of 3 U.S. women feel they were not encouraged to pursue a career in STEM5

How Do We Encourage More School-Age Children to Explore STEM Options? 

Young women who are on track to study STEM subjects need mentoring and nurturing. But we also really need to focus on and influence all young people with the right aptitudes and skills, whether or not they have a real interest in STEM — even at elementary school age. 

If we look how many women are considering STEM and entering the engineer sector, it is not enough to bridge the gap; we need a step change. If we want to make the impact that we would like (and need), we have got to get in at school age and inspire our young people about the whole wealth of engineering topics. 

This is not about capability; across the U.S., girls tend to outperform boys in academically — from elementary school right through to college education. The challenge lies in encouraging young women to pursue what has, until quite recently, been viewed as a masculine career path — this is especially true for young girls who may begin their early working life introverted and struggle with confidence and self-belief. 

Again, mentoring, both within the education sector and within business, is key in order to help those pursuing STEM subjects and careers in engineering to develop and grow.

Challenging Perceptions

We need to overcome the traditional view of an engineer by talking about the real breadth of engineering that exists. As a society, we have several big and difficult problems to solve — issues which cannot be overcome without engineers and those working in STEM roles. This gives real purpose to the career path. For example, the current environmental challenges and the engineering solutions needed to overcome this can be inspiring things that women and men alike can work together to solve and make a difference to the future of the planet.

Addressing the Business Reality

The reality is that a lot of engineering environments today are still male dominated and are not as inclusive as we need them to be. When I was starting out in my engineering career, I struggled with self-confidence and found it difficult to be heard. Businesses need to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels that they can contribute and can make a difference. 

It is also important to emphasize that young people can take control of their own personal development. This is one of the benefits of a career in engineering: you don’t have to follow any particular route in order to be successful. 

Yes, secondary followed by tertiary education is one option, but there are an increasing number of apprenticeships accessible to young people, such as those available at Domino, that give the opportunity to explore the vast array of subjects that engineering covers, whilst accessing higher education.

For example, I started off my training in electrical engineering. I wanted to do mechanical engineering, but I admittedly didn’t have the self-belief then to see it through, although I did manage to develop into manufacturing engineering later. While undertaking an apprentice role at Domino, I immersed myself in the business side of engineering — exploring how to get new products to market, process capability and the best way to set up a production line — as well as elements of business strategy, marketing, finance, etc. It all fell into place and here I am, nearly 30 years later, as Domino’s COO and first female board member.

As a woman who has worked within STEM and engineering for over 30 years, I am proud to be a board member at Domino, a Trustee and Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. I am lucky to have had lots of support and mentoring along my career path and it is something I am committed to giving back through my own personal work and through my role at Domino, by ensuring that we create the kind of workplace where everyone — irrespective of their gender — is able to feel that they can make a difference, that they can lead and have a rich and rewarding career path in a STEM-related discipline.

The value that new talent can bring to the engineering community — indeed to the global community — is immeasurable. But encouraging that talent to remain in engineering is also an absolute necessity if we are to address and solve today’s and tomorrow’s real-world problems. Encouraging this new talent into careers in STEM must be a priority for businesses, educators and governments alike.

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