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As a major government campaign aims to get more young people – particularly girls – into engineering, a local engineer says that changing perceptions at school age could be key to tipping the balance.
Fiona Smith is a chartered chemical engineer with process engineering firm BPE, based in Daresbury. She has more than 13 years’ experience in the industry and says that misconceptions that engineering is all about spanners and dirty overalls could be putting youngsters off.
She said: “I’d never heard of chemical engineering before my chemistry teacher mentioned it to me as a career path when I was 16. I looked into it and realised I’d be really suited to the problem-solving aspects of it and the diversity of where it could take me really appealed.
“I think more information about the different engineering disciplines needs to be got across to girls at an earlier age to try and shift perception away from engineering just being very manual and at times dirty, obviously there can be an element of that but there’s also so much more.”
Fiona says that she’s experienced first-hand just how varied a role in engineering can be. She says: “In my career I have spent time on chemical sites in overalls with a spanner in my hand but I’ve also sat in meetings with patent attorneys discussing intellectual property law and travelled by private jet to view possible site locations, I’ve known engineers who’ve gone to Westminster to lobby MPs on legislation, there’s so much more to the profession than people realise.”
2018 marks the Year of Engineering. It’s a government campaign, which celebrates the world and wonder of engineering and aims to encourage more young people – especially girls – into the profession.
Official figures show that while women comprise 47 per cent of the overall UK workforce, they make up only 12 per cent of those working in engineering.
Fiona says that she’s confident the tide is starting to change though, having noticed more females around her in recent years.
“I’ve worked in departments where there was an equal split between male and female and also departments where I was the only girl but I’d say that situation is getting less common now, thankfully,” she says. “On the technical side of our company, BPE, we’re a third female which I think is great.”