Dr Will Whittow, Senior Lecturer and Admissions Tutor at the Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering (MEME), Loughborough University, explains why it is a fantastic time for girls to consider a career in engineering.
I was recently invited to talk at the GDST’s Engineering and Architecture Conference. There was a brilliant panel session with lots of excellent questions and it is those questions from Year 12 students that have inspired this article.
It’s a fantastic time to study engineering
Engineering is a fantastic degree to study at University and to launch a career. The UK needs twice as many graduate engineers. As an engineer, you can make a real difference to the world and help to shape our futures by contributing to the challenges we may face in energy, communications, healthcare, manufacturing, transport and other sectors.
UK engineering contributes to 26% of GDP and 5.6 million jobs. In these uncertain economic times, it is second only to medicine in terms of employability and salaries (see figure 1 in the gallery below; 2017 data is available on the Engineering UK website).
Engineering is inherently linked with engines, i.e. mechanical or aeronautical. And if you Google ‘engineer’ the images are of men in yellow hard hats. I recently attended a careers fair for Year 9 students and more than 90% thought engineering was fixing cars. Engineering is so much more. It is everything we use and do. I have previously written about some common myths about engineering which still prevail today.
When I asked 70 GDST students how many were thinking about studying Electrical Engineering, only one student put her hand up. Yet we use more electronics now than we did 10 years ago and that we will use more ten years from now.
So from a demand vs supply point of view, electronic and electrical engineering is the area with the biggest shortage of engineers. This means it’s easier to get a job; the salaries are high; and promotion is likely to be quicker.
Now ask yourselves another question: which aspects of our lives will not include electronics in 2037? Electronics is the future of everything and it is what makes ordinary objects intelligent. Electrical engineering is renewable energy; driverless cars; communication; medical technology that allows patients to be treated at their homes; internet security; robotics; and a million other things (see figure 2 in the gallery below).
Why engineering is a great sector for girls to consider
Companies know that recruiting employees from a diversity of backgrounds and who can offer a diversity of ideas is advantageous. They’re working hard to change the misconception that engineering is just for boys and are encouraging people to work flexible hours.
Engineering has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe. This is partly due to the language issue that ‘engineer’ means engines; whereas in European languages it is often derived from ‘ingenuity’. Being an engineer is using your observation skills, imagination, creativity and problem solving (see figure 3 in the gallery below).
Does a career in engineering allow you to have a good work life balance when you're older?
Thirty seven percent of graduates across all subjects end up in non-graduate jobs. This means you need to consider your degree subject very carefully otherwise you may get into debt without improving your career prospects. Engineering offers you a comfortable standard of living and expendable income to do the things you enjoy. Achieving the right work-life balance is always difficult. A job that is not challenging is not rewarding. Engineers are in demand and companies work hard to retain their key personnel.
There is an interesting report by Atkins with data from 300 female engineers that suggests that 98% believe it is a rewarding career for women and 79% said a supportive working environment helps work/life balance.
Where would you work with an Electrical Engineering degree?
Pretty much everywhere! Try to think of something that won’t involve electronics in 10 years’ time. Electrical Engineering gives you the mathematical, coding, hardware, systems skills which are all highly transferrable for all career paths.