Friday, June 17, 2016

BESA campaigns to improve sector's gender balance

The Building Engineering Services Association (the BESA) is sponsoring the National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) on June 23 in an initiative aimed at improving gender balance and diversity across the building engineering services sector.

The event, which is being organised by the Women's Engineering Society (WES), forms part of an international awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus on the wide range of career opportunities available.

Just 9% of registered UK engineers are female compared to 18% in Spain, 20% in Italy and 26% in Sweden. Out of every 100 people on construction sites, just one is a woman. And the UK is 28th out of 28 in the EU league table for the numbers of women in engineering.

The WES is also managing a mentoring programme to encourage women to consider engineering careers via the MentorSET programme, and incoming BESA president Malcolm Thomson has volunteered to act as one of the scheme’s mentors.

“For engineering, which is suffering from a growing skills shortage, to be effectively recruiting from just half of the available workforce is crazy,” said Mr Thomson, who has been elected to serve as BESA president from July of this year.

“The adoption of modern methods of working and the emergence of “big data” and digital design techniques, along with the rapid advancement of building services technology, mean the sector desperately needs more talented young people with new skills and from a much wider background.”

Engineering UK’s latest workforce report reveals that Britain needs to recruit and train 69,000 more engineers every year than it does currently to meet employers’ demands. Without these numbers, the UK will not be able to deliver infrastructure projects that are vital to our nation’s economic and social prosperity, said Mr Thomson.

“There are amazing career opportunities in our industry, but gender stereotypes still hold sway, and our businesses are missing out as a result. And, whether we like it or not, there is clearly an element of unconscious bias that leads to many women being turned off by building engineering.

“Our industry needs a diverse workforce to remain competitive. Without a healthy proportion of women, young people and the widest possible ethnic diversity, we will not have the spread of skills we need to advance the science and technology of building engineering services.”

The awareness-raising events across the country on 23 June provide an opportunity to demonstrate the wide range of exciting careers available in building engineering services, of which many young people are unaware. The growing importance of IT, modern methods of construction (such as offsite) and new materials (such as phase change) are opening up opportunities to introduce new skills into the sector to complement more traditional engineering disciplines.

Engineering employers point out that they also need more people from creative backgrounds as the profession takes advantage of digital design tools, augmented reality, 3D printing and many other emerging techniques to deliver ever more advanced building engineering projects.

BESA is planning to follow up the NWED events with a seminar at London South Bank University covering the business benefits of a proactive approach to diversity. This will be aimed particularly at small and medium-sized contractors and will take place in October (details to follow).

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