With automation and emerging technologies shaping the workplace of the future, the workforce of tomorrow must also adapt. The sharp growth in new industries means engineering enterprises are set to need more than 265,000 skilled entrants every year through to 2024. Of these, around 186,000 people will be needed in purely engineering occupations. However, the UK is struggling to meet the growing demand for engineers.
Having gone through the UK education system and working as an engineer for 11 years, I can think of many reasons for the deficiency of engineers in the UK. Lack of diversity in the field, due to misconceptions and gender bias, plays a huge part.
It wasn’t until I was 17, whilst on a university residential taster course, that I found out what engineering really entailed. Until then I was quite sure that the only thing engineers did was fix cars. Luckily, I found out the truth and moved into a profession that I thoroughly enjoy.
The odd person still asks me if I can fix their TV or air-conditioning unit, but this isn’t too surprising. Carry out a simple internet search of engineering images and you will come across pages of construction images, with men in hard hats. The common misconception with engineering is that it’s a hands-on manual job for men.
Engineering is about creativity and problem solving by applying mathematical and scientific theory. There is a diverse range of careers within engineering, both office and site based. If more people understood what a career in engineering really involved, we would have a lot more engineers.
These misconceptions start from an early age: through various avenues including cartoons; toys; and books. On visits to primary schools to talk about engineering, I always ask the children what they think an engineer does. I get responses ranging from “operating cranes” to “fixing things”. It’s shocking that children are being fed false information about the profession from as young as 4 years old.
On one school visit I opened the floor for questions, when an 8-year-old boy asked: “What made you think you could do a man’s job?”… This brings me on to gender bias in engineering.
Only 9% of UK engineers are female meaning, in essence, we are missing out on almost half of the population. For a profession that requires innovation and creativity, this is a staggering statistic.
I believe that, along with the common misconceptions, this is down to a lack of role models. Young people are more likely to have an interest in engineering if they come across people in industry who they can relate to, i.e. people who look like them. Getting more women from industry into schools is a great way to do this. Both boys and girls need to see that engineering is not only for men.
Being able to see first-hand the misconceptions and gender bias in engineering is what urged me to publish ‘My Mummy is an Engineer’, a picture book for 3-7 year olds introducing them to the exciting world of engineering. I didn’t want children missing out on a rewarding career, just because they didn’t know what it was or that it was normal for them to pursue it.
With my technical background and my brother’s (Jason Bryan) creative input, we founded Butterfly Books and have since published 2 more titles. We work closely with professional industry representatives to ensure that the correct message is given in all books. This requires close coordination between the industry representatives, the illustrator, the editor and the authors.
‘My Mummy is an Engineer’ won the 2016 Bronze Wishing Shelf book award and was a finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards. However, what excites us the most is seeing the immediate impact that the book has on children’s views and perceptions. The original idea of the books stems from my experience as an engineer, and just like engineering, the highlight of the books is seeing our work and ideas come to life in order to solve a real life problem.
There’s a huge amount of resources available and work being done by various organisations to encourage more diversity into the field of engineering. However, it’s also up to industry and educational bodies to make use of the resources and programmes available to really make a big change.
In 2014 she was listed by Management Today Magazine and The Sunday Times as one of the UKs top 35 women in business under the age of 35. In 2015 she won the PRECIOUS award for outstanding woman in STEM and is a winner of the 2016 ‘We are the City Rising Star’ award in the oil and gas category.
Kerrine is a volunteer mentor for the IET with a passion for educating young people on what engineering is really about. She has visited schools, colleges and universities sharing her experiences as an engineer and encouraging more women to consider engineering as a career.Her passion for changing perceptions led her to set up Butterfly Books Limited in 2015, to publish career themed children’s picture books. Current titles are ‘My Mummy is an Engineer’, ‘My Mummy is a Plumber’ and ‘My Mummy is a Scientist’.