Redressing the gender balance at eco-agency

Major engineering projects to tackle flooding are no longer labelled mans work
Major engineering projects to tackle flooding are no longer labelled mans work

As infrastructure across the North West is built to become more climate-resilient, the demand for engineers in the workforce is intensifying.

Yet, despite the need, women within the critical qualifications are still vastly under-represented.

According to Engineering UK and Women in Engineering, only 12 per cent of the engineering workforce is female and the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe.

But in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, that could be set to change. Following a recent review of its operational structure, the Environment Agency (EA), one of the largest employers in the area, has revealed that it is making significant strides to close the gender gap in engineering.

Current statistics from the organisation show that the number of male and female engineers within the local Environment Agency offices and depots now stands at an equal 50/50 split.

Part of the progress made with the EA’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) recruitment comes from its structured graduate training programme that support graduates to become professional qualified engineers.

This comprises over 30 per cent female graduate engineers who are working towards gaining incorporated or chartered status with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the Institution of Mechanical & Engineers (IMechE) or Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) over a three to five-year period.

The Agency also sponsors three degree programmes at Brunel University with foundation, bachelor and master degrees in Flood and Coastal Risk Management. In two years, the number of females on these courses has increased from 30 per cent to 41 per cent.

In 2018, the EA signed up to the ICE’s QUEST scholarship programme, which partners scholars with sponsor companies for the duration of their undergraduate degrees, sponsoring them through their degree and providing paid, summer experience placements.

Nationally, the EA has 56 graduate engineers on the accredited training scheme. This involves undertaking a range of placements in different teams to gain a broad understanding of different parts of the organisation as well as working with the Agency’s supply chain to obtain design and construction experience. Of these, eight are graduates in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire and are female.

The Agency also credits its success in addressing the gender shortfall in the sector by taking part in educational events across the area and visiting schools to inspire girls and young women. As part of this, each year, the EA provides a week of work experience for Warrington-based Priestley College students who are taking a BTEC in Environmental Sustainability.

Debra Thomson, programme specialist for the EA in the region, said: “I am delighted that our recent statistics show that we are bridging the gender gap in our STEM skillset and delivering on the EA’s commitment to gender equality. Our civil engineers are integral for helping to create and deliver our flood and coastal infrastructures that we all depend on in our cities and towns across Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire and we want to help everyone discover their drive, passion and enthusiasm for engineering.

“Engineering itself is vital to the to the UK economy, generating 21.4 per cent (£1.2 trillion) of the UK’s £5.7 trillion turnover in 2018, yet there is currently a shortfall of 56,000 engineers. We want to change that. If you have the mindset that is asking how things work or how we can create flood resilient infrastructure in an ever changing climate, then you could be a future engineer, regardless of your gender.

“We are determined that engineering in the EA will be an equal playing field for all and I believe our latest statistics reflect our drive and the strides we are making to create change.”