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Engineering needs YOU!

In 1914 well over a million men left Britain and their loved ones for the trenches of France and World War One. They also left the engineering factories of Britain short of around a million workers. This was extremely serious. Everybody knew these factories would be critical to the war effort. Keeping them running at full capacity would be the only way to stave off defeat and invasion by Germany.

So 105 years ago, British engineering was in the grip of a serious labour and skills gap.

Later that year a young engineer started a new job at a large Tyneside engineering works. Their task - to attract, recruit and train women to fill the places left by the men. It was a success. These women kept the works running. They designed and built everything from steam turbines for power generation, to advanced marine engines for British Naval warships. When peace fell in 1918 the men returned. Our young engineer vehemently opposed the assumption that these talented women who had played such an important role in securing victory for Britain, should have to return home so men could have their old jobs back. Taking on the firm's directors, our young engineer insisted that every woman who wanted to keep their job should, by right, be able to.

Our young engineer's name was Rachel Parsons. And this was pretty radical stuff for 1918. But then Rachel Parsons was a pretty radical person.

She was absolutely everything except for conventional. A gifted engineer, she studied at Cambridge University. Academic and studious, she was also beautiful and glamourous, combining a love of fast cars and fast boats with lavish entertaining and society parties.

She fought members of her own family over rights for women workers. She stood up to the Unions who demanded women be displaced to make way for men. She campaigned tirelessly for equality of education and opportunity in engineering. And in 1919 she helped found the Women's Engineering Society. Celebrating its centenary this year, the WES is the very inspiration behind our year-long celebration of women in engineering here at Tharsus.

So as the year draws to a close, it's apt to take a moment to ponder Rachel Parson's legacy.

Today, there are over 730,000 women in engineering in the UK. Sounds a lot, but it's actually only 12% of the UK engineering profession. This is puzzling when you learn a few facts.

Education statistics show girls are better at STEM subjects than boys. STEM subjects being - as we know - important grounding for any aspiring engineer. Those who go on to engineering degree studies do better in these too with 79.8% achieving a first or upper second. And finally a recent survey by the Royal Academy of Engineers revealed 98% of female engineers find their job rewarding.

So why aren't there more women in engineering?

We need 1.8 million new engineers working by 2025 to keep the wheels of UK industry turning. That’s a big skills gap. So isn't it time history repeated itself? Isn't it time women came to the rescue again just as they did in 1914?

 

Christine Reid is Project Principal at Tharsus.

 

Tharsus designs and manufactures Strategic Machines. Strategic Machines make a strategic difference to our customers’ business performance by solving tough automation problems and creating new business opportunities. The right Strategic Machine helps businesses tackle people and resource scarcity, environmental challenges, changing consumer behaviour and disruptive competitors and technologies. 

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