Only 35 percent of those studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at UK universities are female, and when looking at engineering and technology specifically, that number falls to 19 percent. In the UK workforce, less than 10 percent of those in STEM subjects are women. This might go some way to explaining the skills gap in engineering in the UK.

Whilst there is a clear and obvious struggle to attract female apprentices into industries such as engineering, we are very fortunate to have one at CTS. We are also proud that out of a management headcount of 21, nine of these are women. Furthermore, our single largest account is also headed up by a wonderful team of women.

As the engineering sector offers a significant contribution to the UK’s economic output, it is vital that we continue to address the issue, especially in the coming years as we tackle changes arising from Brexit.

Why do we have a skills gap?

According to the Institute of Civil Engineers, almost 30 percent of construction jobs in London are filled by EU nationals. Of course, engineering isn’t all construction, but for those outside the sector, that’s not often clear. Engineering does a poor job of selling itself to potential talent and those sectors that people are aware of tend to be very male-dominated. By projecting this limited vision of what engineering is, the sector closes itself off to all but a small demographic. As we leave the EU and try to reinforce UK industry to account for a rising trade deficit, building skilled and innovative industries has never been more important. Studies from 2018 found that the UK would need – at the very minimum – to gain 186,000 skilled workers every year until 2024 to gain parity with demand.


Attracting diverse talent

In an article in The Guardian, Dr Claire Lucas, director of studies for systems and biomedical engineering at the University of Warwick, says that the first thing she did in her role was to change the language in the university prospectus to better reflect the range of skills and experience that engineering courses offer.


A huge part of the problem is attracting young women to study relevant subjects in the first place. But it is not only down to schools and governments to encourage students and to design more inclusive curriculums. Organisations should be actively reaching out to young talent to inspire and encourage.


Many organisations also suffer from the ‘glass pyramid’ phenomenon. Even industries that do attract genders equally at entry-level tend to lose women at middle management. More needs to be done to retain talent and enable progression. Not only will this expand the talent pool for those in the most skilled positions, but having women in influential roles in the industry can also act as inspiration for others.


There is no simple answer to gender gaps in the industry. Complex and deeply entrenched systems define culture and unconscious bias as well as issues of accessibility. However, even small changes can make a difference long-term. The industry must be introspective, understanding the image it presents to those outside the sector and engaging with women to understand barriers to entry. However, it must also push for broader change in the education system and push for governmental change – such as the previous apprenticeship levy – that creates routes into the sector.