The engineering skills gap is a growing problem for the industry and one that does not seem to be slowing down. There have been many initiatives designed to try and reduce this gap and inspire the next generation to pursue engineering careers. The 23rd of June marks one of these initiatives: National Women in Engineering Day.
Set up by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) in 2014, its aim is to celebrate the work women do in engineering and to showcase great engineering careers available for girls. To support this, metrology software products ltd (MSP), have asked two of their female engineers about their roles within the company and why engineering is such an important career for students to get involved in.
When I tell someone my profession, I often receive responses along the lines of ‘so you fix cars?’ or ‘you don’t look strong enough to handle spanners’. I find it surprising that there is still a lack of knowledge surrounding engineering as it is a great career to be in. Responding to those questions, I always try and distinguish between professional engineering and all the other industries. It is important for young people to be aware of the opportunities within engineering and realise it can lead to so many different career options.
My engineering journey started when I was very young, always choosing to play with Lego and Meccano instead of Barbies.
Amanda Tait, Applications Engineer
Looking back at school, engineering was never a subject that was massively promoted as a career option, with the focus being on the usual, traditional subjects. For me, my favourite subjects at school were maths, design technology, science and art. As I moved towards my A-Levels, I decided to pursue a career based on art and design subjects as this was what I enjoyed the most. Therefore, I took art and design technology, but still kept an element of engineering with Maths and Physics, knowing these would be subjects I would enjoy and do well at.
After my A-Levels, I went onto university. I studied Art and Design at York St Johns University and loved the independence and lifestyle it gave me. However, the lack of intellectual study left me deflated and within one term I decided it wasn’t for me and left. It took me a further year of careers advice and thorough investigation to realise engineering was the subject I should have initially gone for.
After a little time out travelling, I moved back to the North East and worked at Marks and Spencer to fund a degree in engineering. I studied part time at the Open University and managed to finish my degree in four years. I loved it and was so glad I went with my heart to follow a career I knew I would love.
My degree was General Engineering, with the option to select modules more specialised to your preferred branch of engineering. I chose to study modules more mechanical and structural based, after having enjoyed these in the taster sessions. I particularly enjoyed the stress calculations involved in designing a truss or beam and fracture mechanics.
For the majority of my time there, I was the only female in my study groups, however, I never found this to be a problem and it never put me off. In fact, I would say I was encouraged by my tutors and peers and it was nice to bring a different dimension to the groups.
Once I had graduated, I took more time out and spent a year travelling around Europe. Afterwards I began to consider my career and started looking into finding a job. I wanted to stay in the North of England and was delighted to find MSP so close to home and I was thrilled when they offered me a job.
I have now worked as part of an MSP team for just over a year and am enjoying being in a career I know is right for me. I enjoy the diversity of the job, one day I could be trying to manipulate a computer driven machine to measure the geometry of complex shapes, and next I could be trying to figure out a legible way to display data from machine output. This all appeals to my problem solving mind and I enjoy the difference each day brings.
I am also currently involved in a Greenpower Car Project with students from a local school. The project is for the Greenpower IET Formula 24; a national challenge where teams build a battery powered car to loose specifications. It is a great project to be involved in and is a great to way to get students excited about engineering and have hands on experience in the subject. We are entering a boys and girls team into the competition this year and it is nice to see there is the same level of excitement from both the boys and the girls. It is great to see engineering being encouraged within schools through projects like this and makes such a change from when I was at school.
I would strongly recommend females with a love of maths and problem solving to explore a
career within engineering. There are so many areas to get involved in and so many great
When I was younger, I found it difficult to decide what I wanted to do for a career. The only thing that ever stood out for me was IT. I was good at it and I always found it more interesting than my other subjects.
As I moved onto my A-Levels, I still had no idea what to do career-wise. I continued with IT, pairing this with Business Studies and Geography. At the time, I actually considered pursuing a career in business, as the modules seemed to be far more practical and useable in the real world. Eventually though, my strong interest in computing and software development is what led me to pursue a degree in the field.
Laura Mclean, Software Engineer
I went on to take Computing Studies at Northumbria University as it offered flexibility in what areas I could study. It was also a sandwich degree, meaning in the third year I would undertake a placement. This was something I was really interested in doing as it would give me on-the-job experience and hopefully make my CV stand out.
My second year in Uni soon came around and my search for a placement began. It was a long, time-consuming process and can be disheartening when you receive rejections after spending weeks on one application! I decided to narrow my choices and focused on applying for a certain location. I was keen to stay in the North of England and was thrilled when I came across metrology software products (MSP), based in Northumberland.
Their website was limited, but I was determined to secure a placement so did not let this put me off. I sent an email asking if there was a placement opportunity available or if it would be something they would consider undertaking. My determination paid off and I found myself with an interview, I was thrilled! The interview process was tough but they must have seen something in me as I found myself with a placement! It also happened that I played badminton with an MSP employee, something I had not known beforehand.
I spent a year at MSP, developing my skills and gaining valuable experience of software development. I graduated in 2007 with a first class honours degree and the award for outstanding female achievement. Not only that, I was lucky enough to be offered a graduate job with MSP.
I have been a full time employee at MSP now for eight years. As a software developer, I write code to add new features to our products, fix bugs and test the end result. Essentially I am involved in every stage of the development cycle, from initial concept to design, all the way through to implementation and then testing. At the moment I am primarily working on the user interface aspect of one of our products. I also oversee code integration from fellow developers and am responsible for general codebase maintenance so the working environment is stable. It’s the diverse, technical nature of the work that allows me to enjoy it as much as I did the first day I arrived.
Engineering is such an exciting industry to work in and I am so glad I decided to pursue this career field. The ability to learn and improve my technical skills is the thing I enjoy the most. I feel very lucky to be able to do a job I enjoy and nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing a piece of software you have developed being used by customers.
If you have the enthusiasm and drive to write software and pursue engineering interests, it is definitely worth doing and a great opportunity for women to excel and break into what is sometimes considered as a male orientated environment.
When I started at university it was very male dominated, there were only about ten girls across the entire computing school and every year this declined to the point where there were just four of us. Don’t let this put you off, if you enjoy problem solving, being analytical and seeing a product go through the full development cycle, embrace your inner engineer and take on a career within this field.
I would also recommend undertaking a work placement. There is no substitute for getting first hand experience of the working world and putting your knowledge to practice, while also developing it further. It also gives a boost to your CV when applying for graduate jobs. Don’t let long application processes or rejections put you off, it is all worth it in the end!