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Why aren’t STEM Subjects and Careers Appealing to Girls?

Posted by: Elena Craigie

As the baby boomer generation retires, skills gaps are yawning wider and wider across most Engineering industries, and Manufacturing is no different. In addressing this skills gap, one area that cannot be ignored is that of encouraging females into STEM subjects and ultimately Engineering careers, including the Manufacturing industry.

In the UK, it is compulsory for all students to take Mathematics and at least one Science subject. Across most GCSE subjects, girls outperform boys, and in particular within STEM subjects – with 71.3% of girls achieving A*-C, compared to 62.4% of boys (NDMA, 14th November 2016). So when then, in 2016, are just 21% of those working in core STEM occupations women? And only 5.5% of those completing STEM appenticeships are female?

STEM industries provide a great career, with good access to career growth and promotion, and roles are well-paid – with the mean annual gross pay in the UK Manufacturing industry standing at £31,489 (Manufacturers’ Organisation Fact Card, 2016) – against a mean annual gross pay of £27,607 across the whole economy. The Manufacturing industry is a candidate-led market, with 55% of businesses reportedly lacking confidence in finding people with higher-level skills (CBI). And what’s more, the Manufacturing industry offers good, rewarding careers with the opportunity to climb high, use a lot of creativity and problem solving, and the freedom to choose a wide range of different paths.

The Government has taken steps recently to counteract the skills shortage by introducing the Apprenticeship Levy, which comes in on 6th April 2017. The Levy affects employers with £3m+ payroll – meaning they will have to invest at least 0.5% of their total pay bill, minus £15,000, in apprenticeships. And although this may be expensive for employers it is important that the next generation of STEM-skilled workers are trained.

But how can we encourage girls in particular to carry on with STEM subjects after their compulsory GCSE education? There have been lots of campaigns aimed at reaching out to young women, but they have all seemed a little off the mark; they’ve all been about the same thing, and that is “Engineering isn’t just for boys.” But why? In what way is it for girls, too? Why not highlight what it is, rather than what it isn’t?

Any thoughts greatly appreciated – how do you think we can successfully encourage more girls into the industry?

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