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The theme for the seventh annual International Women in Engineering Day (INWED20) on June 23rd 2020 was ‘Shape the World’; reflecting the work engineers do to improve sustainability; tackle climate change and support social equality.

Daikin Applied UK backed this awareness raising initiative to promote the many opportunities available to women of all ages in the building services sector, according to the company’s product development manager James Henley.

“This international celebration, which organised by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), was designed to inspire more women to consider the growing range of careers open to them in engineering,” he says. “Many women still do not believe that engineering, in general, and building services engineering, in particular, have anything to offer them – but the opposite is true.

“Our industry has a wide range of career opportunities for people from all backgrounds; we are just not very good at promoting them. Events like INWED help to raise the profile of those opportunities and demonstrate that many women are already enjoying rewarding and fulfilling careers in our sector, which should, hopefully, inspire others to follow in their footsteps.”

Engineering employers were already reporting a serious shortfall in recruits before the COVID-19 crisis and unless engineering professions improve their appeal to women and girls it will be much harder for the sector to support the UK’s economic recovery.


Engineering careers

Just 12% of UK engineers are female – although that is an improvement from the 9% recorded in 2015 – and just 25% of girls aged 16-18 would consider a career in engineering compared with more than 50% of boys, according to the latest statistics gathered by EngineeringUK.

Engineering is crucial to the overall economic success of the country generating 23% of the country’s annual turnover (including most of its exports) and employing 5.6 million people, but there were almost 59,000 unfilled engineering vacancies last year.

“The fact that only about 1 in 10 engineers are female means we are failing to recruit properly from half of the population,” says Mr Henley. “Not only that, we do not have a workforce, therefore, that properly reflects the society we serve. The same applies right across the diversity spectrum as we do not have adequate representation from young people; the BAME population; and people with disabilities.”

WES chief executive Elizabeth Donnelly says the INWED theme for 2020 ties in with “the challenges facing us in an uncertain future and invites engineers to share how they are tackling such topics as the climate emergency”.

“Women like to work where they can make a difference so we need to promote the amazing opportunities in engineering to ‘shape the world’ i.e. through sustainability; the climate emergency and addressing social inequalities,” she added.

She also believes that encouraging more women to take up engineering jobs relies on men just as much as other women.

“Since its inception [in1919 in the wake of the First World War and the women’s suffrage movement], WES has worked to try to ensure that women have the opportunities to work and to be educated, campaigning for equal rights, equal education and equal pay in a sector which remains heavily male dominated,” said Ms Donnelly.

“Our work in improving the rights of women in the workplace would have been impossible without male allies, who were able to use their social standing and personal experience to make the case for women being a positive addition to the engineering workforce.”

Just 46% of girls would consider engineering as a career at age 11-14 – compared with 70% of boys – but that falls to just 25% aged 16-18. The Prime Minister has also made apprenticeships one of his key priorities for rebuilding the economy, but currently girls and women account for less than 18% of higher apprentices in engineering and manufacturing – and for just 7.4% of all engineering apprentices. Only 22% of students starting A level Physics last year were female.

Yet, studies show that they outperform their male counterparts in all STEM A level subjects apart from Chemistry, according to EngineeringUK, which is a not-for-profit body working with the sector to encourage more young people to take up engineering careers.


The value of training

Angie Brand, after sales manager at Daikin Applied (UK), is an example of someone who had not considered engineering – and definitely not building services. In fact, she had her heart set on a career in forensic science. However, an opportunity opened up through the now defunct government funded Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and she never looked back.

She is someone who has always recognised the value of training and, having first entered the industry in 1987 with the refrigeration and air conditioning wholesaler HRP, she is still looking to improve herself today – and was named North East Apprentice of the Yearfor 2019. Proving that an apprenticeship can be a benefit at any stage of a career.

This year she completed a BTec Level 5 management course, and received the High level/degree apprentice of the year award for the second year running.

Angie found the industry interesting from the start and set about understanding the products and getting to grips with the technical language. This was an important early step as it helped her gain the respect of the engineers she worked with.

“I knew nothing of the industry at the beginning, but I was eager to learn so I attended local technical meetings, which were often held in the evenings,” she says. “I also went along to as many supplier training days too so I could learn more – and the more I understood the more confidence I gained.”

She moved to the multinational refrigeration and air conditioning manufacturer Daikin in 2005 as a warranty coordinator at its Cramlington factory in Northumberland.

2015 the company, recognising her talent for self-improvement, sponsored Angie through BTEC Diplomas in Customer Service Level 3 and Team Leadership Level 2. Having successfully completed these, and showing a desire for further development, the company agreed for Angie to progress to the BTEC Diploma in Management Level 3, which she completed with ease.

However, still not satisfied, she challenged herself further – hence the BTEC Diploma in Management and Leadership L5, which she completed this year. On top of all that (and managing to work full time), Angie has also completed training courses in manager & supervisor development; performance appraisals; coaching and mentoring and IOSH risk management.

“She has made a real and lasting impact on the company and is a passionate believer in improving herself and others,” said Mr Henley. “These skills include working with new staff and customers to help them understand the company and its goals, as well as helping to train staff – helping others gain from self-improvement too.

“Her contribution has been invaluable and has demonstrated real innovation and creativity. It has also shown what is possible if you have real drive and enthusiasm for the job.”

She has also taken a wider interest in the industry and was Northern Secretary of the Institute of Refrigeration for 10 years, which involved organising technical seminars and charity events. So what is it that motivates a woman like Angie to take on more and more in a technically challenging environment?


A rewarding feeling

“Every day is different,” she says. “I love getting involved with clients and understanding their requirements. It is a very rewarding feeling if you can meet their aspirations, which I like to think we usually do…I hate letting people down.”

She believes the opportunities for women are on the up in the building services sector and it is important to promote the pivotal role of air conditioning and ventilation technology.

“I feel really privileged to be part of an industry that touches our everyday lives in such an important way,” says Angie. “The number of woman coming into the industry is definitely on the increase and, while it can be challenging as well as rewarding, we are witnessing a change in attitudes towards women along with the changes in our industry. Women are becoming more integral to the solutions and our views are being listened to.”

She also believes the sector is getting better at making women feel wanted and comfortable – and the various industry bodies are making a real effort to promote the industry to women.

“It might seem daunting to people on the outside, but there a real opportunities here for women – young and old. It makes very little sense that our industry has such poor gender diversity – there are so many ideal roles for women in building engineering. Employers have been missing out on a huge pool of talent, but it is really good to see that changing.”