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Recently in an article by the BBC, there was an article that featured a female engineer, highlighting the fact that the traditional, cliched image of an engineer is starting to disappear. That fabled image of men in hard hats to symbolise an engineer is fast becoming obsolete as Pavlina Akritas, a lighting designer for the firm Arup; explains is needed to increase the numbers of women moving into the engineering and construction industry.

The article written by the BBC states that the Royal Academy of Engineering has found that many young people think of engineering and construction work as technical and boring; meaning that there are potential skills shortages of around 50,000 people per year – something that is likely to be squeezing the industry as a whole. Shortages of labour however can lead to businesses using more efficient techniques (necessity is the mother of invention, after all) but ultimately these shortages will result in delays and lost revenue.

According to their research, only 12% of engineers in the industry are women with only 9% from an ethnic minority background. The academy has then since launched “This is Engineering Day” in order to try and challenge these stereotypes; thus hoping to provide a boost to the industry in terms of more skilled employees coming through to plug the 50,000 gap.

According to the BBC article, Ms Akritas explained that if you were to google “engineer” the predominant images were that of men in hard hats; an outdated image of what exactly and engineer is in today’s terms. If you do actually try googling the term engineer now and looking at images, there are a lot more images containing women – still in hard hats but it shows that there is a tangible shift in the presence of women in construction and engineering industries.

Ms Akritas, who has featured in the 100 influential women in engineering list that was drawn up by inclusive boards, stated that she enjoys wearing high heels and dresses and only really wears a hard hat for around two weeks per year; with a lot of her work being office based. This is showing that the academy’s work with big brands in media, advertising and recruitment is paying off; in the use of more representative images of engineers.

Hayaatun Sillem, chief executive of the academy, says the role is varied and that it is a “well-paid profession”.

“Engineering is a great foundation,” she says. “You’re really employable if you’re an engineer, so it’s not surprising that people who study engineering go on to work in other areas.

“That’s great, we need people with those skills right across our economy,” she adds. “We also need enough of them going into engineering.”

Michelle Hicks, an engineer specialising in rollercoaster design at Chessington World of Adventures said that the grimy reputation of the engineering and construction industry was undeserved:

“That’s one of the biggest misconceptions. The role of an engineer is so varied,” she said.

“For me, it can be from going to design team meetings, complex problem-solving, to being out on site.

“But when you’re on site as an engineer, it’s very much looking at what’s going on, is it built to specification. It’s not [about] getting dirty at all.”

The Academy still state however that one of the main barriers to entry for people looking at careers in engineering is that there are deeply-rooted cultural perceptions of the profession being overly mechanical, technical and overall boring.

One of the ways in which this skills gap can be plugged is in the use of bespoke software built especially for construction businesses; in order to help with the shortage of skills and to make the business more efficient. We recently put together a guide for businesses in the construction industry to help them understand the ways in which they can use bespoke software to improve efficiency. If you would like to find out more, please click here.

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