Alasdair Henderson, Executive Director BAM Ireland, met Professor Rebecca Lunn who originally founded Engineering the Future for Girls when he was guest lecturing at the University of Strathclyde. At the time, Alasdair was People and Culture Director at BAM Nuttall and was instrumental in BAM becoming a partner – sponsoring the programme through financial support, site visits, speakers and volunteers.
Women have long been under-represented in engineering. It’s not a new problem, but it is one which presents a number of issues for our industry. The lack of gender representation extends down into engineering degree courses which are skewed towards male students with some courses reporting less than 10% female students.
In 2017, I met Professor Rebecca Lunn while guest lecturing at the University of Strathclyde. We began discussing how we could encourage girls to consider the industry. There’s absolutely no reason engineering is not as inspiring a career for women as it is for men. We collaborated to sponsor the Engineering the Future for Girls Programme with BP and Weir PLC, hosted by the University of Strathclyde.
The programme is a one-week summer school engaging 14-15-year-old girls to take part in a wide variety of engineering challenges. The participants are introduced to different engineering subjects and disciplines with the goal to inspire them to choose a career in the engineering industry. Since 2017, our feeling that girls would be just as interested in engineering with a little bit of exposure and encouragement, has proven to be true. We have averaged 300 applications per year for 100 places – a statistic I often cite in response to people who suggest that girls aren’t interested in engineering.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the event saw us take our 100 attendees on a site visit , with our various female engineers also giving guest lectures. On the penultimate day of each programme, BAM provided volunteers for a shelter building day. Our team helped the programme attendees design and build emergency relief shelters – which the girls had to test themselves as buckets of water are poured over them to check for weather tightness!
When the pandemic hit and the programme had to go online, we were adamant we wouldn’t lose the momentum we had created. In order to continue, BAM sponsored the event and provided resources and guest speakers. Not even a global pandemic will stop us from engaging the future of engineering.
When we set this up, our focus was on 3rd year (14-yr old) girls who are about to make their National 5 (GCSE) subject choices, aiming to reach and influence them towards choices that would allow them to access engineering careers in the fullness of time. We also reserve 20% of the places for applicants from Areas of Multiple Deprivation, to maximise impact with groups who would otherwise be less likely to continue through to higher education.
The next step as I see it, is to expand our work to different age groups. When you speak to a primary school age girl and ask them what they’d like to be when they grow up, in STEM careers we hear “doctor” and “vet”. There’s no reason “engineer” can’t be in there. With the sustainability challenges facing society and the planet, we need to make sure ‘Engineer’ is in there.