Arrowsmith Engineering’s managing director, Jason Aldridge believes getting more women into engineering can only be made possible when all sides take a different approach to promotion and recruitment.
The recent Women’s Football World Cup in France has brought the conversation of equality sharply into focus and the tournament’s appearance on our primetime TV screens shows a willingness to acknowledge the growth and popularity of the sport in the UK.
It’s a welcome move by the BBC and shows some progress is being made in the football world. Unfortunately, manufacturing and its never-ending battle to attract females into the sector still has a long way to go. Despite numerous best-intentioned efforts to increase the number of women on engineering courses, apprenticeships and other entry programmes into industry, there is still a worrying lack of female employees coming through the ranks.
And it’s not a case of simply blaming the Government - we are all to blame in our own way. Education, with just an average of 10% of females on their engineering courses, needs to stop being so arrogant and consider new ways of recruitment, whilst manufacturers have to make a much better effort to create design studios, quality departments, sales offices and shopfloors that are more welcoming and encouraging.
The real eureka moment for me came during a recent industry awards ceremony where I was impressed after watching a high-octane engineering film set to a dramatic soundtrack. I turned to my wife, who is a university professor, to gauge her opinion, expecting a similar reaction. Instead, I got a very different response. She said the film actually turned her off, as it was very ‘James Bond’ with ‘boyish’ images.
It dawned on me that we are promoting an image of engineering that is attractive to men. Perhaps we should find out from women what would actually interest and motivate them and put them in charge of designing the marketing and routes of engagement. After all, it can’t be any worse than the numbers we are currently producing with the same ‘tried and tested’ approach?
My company, Arrowsmith Engineering has traditionally been a business with a high percentage of men working for it. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’m not on an equality crusade. I just think that women engineers bring a lot of skills and, sometimes different solutions, to the role and I want my company to benefit. So, what have we been doing to change things?
Firstly, we’ve started to offer engineering placements to local schools and colleges, with the ratio of girls taking us up on the opportunity outstripping boys for the first time this year. We’re also continuing to employ apprentices from the Manufacturing Technology Centre and interns from Coventry University, with a very proactive approach to recruiting females whenever possible. This has led to women playing a crucial role in quality, commercial, finance, inspection, NDT and CNC machining.
The latter is a very interesting story. Misha Patel, our first ever female machinist apprentice, has recently started and we’ve decided to mentor her with Sue Elton, our longest-standing female machinist. We have done this for two reasons. Firstly, so she can access Sue’s outstanding skills and, secondly, so she can benefit from someone who understands what it is like to be working in industry and the huge advice and guidance this brings.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. There has been plenty of lessons to learn as we’ve moved forward and the key is to not give up the minute you make mistakes or things don’t come off. This needs to be a long-term objective and we’ve decided to embrace change rather than fear it.
As a SME, I have to be honest and say we needed to work on ensuring our facilities were acceptable to cope with the growing number of female staff we were employing. The offices were always fine, but the shopfloor required upgrading and we’ve done this, providing a better factory environment for all employees, regardless of gender.
A more balanced workforce is a great thing and adds positively to the operational and financial performance of Arrowsmith Engineering. It’s not about doing the right thing to feel good about yourself or to tick the ‘CSR’ box, it simply makes good business sense.