The head of a Northern Ireland skills agency says more needs to be done to get girls into engineering and to help women working in traditionally male dominated industries achieve management positions.
Gillian Winters, Chief Executive of the Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland (ETC NI) says improving gender diversity in the workplace and in the boardroom will have significant benefits to business in the country and help avoid a skills shortage – with thousands of skilled workers due to retire in the next three years.
The ETC (NI) has engaged gender diversity specialists Skills 4 to
• Support 20 SMEs and four large companies develop 50 females in a successful career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) roles
• Promote STEM to 1000 school girls
• Establish a women’s network to mentor and support women and girls
The Women into STEM project will be launched at Stormont Long Gallery by Winters and Brenda Hale MLA on March 25.
Hale said: “There is plenty of evidence to show that businesses which practice gender diversity are better places to work and enjoy better results. Unfortunately, there are many businesses, as a whole, where women are not given the opportunity to reach junior or senior management positions and even less the chance of a seat in the boardroom. We need to create a corporate culture which supports and encourages women to progress their careers, with the same opportunities as men.”
Winters said: “We want to work with companies of all sizes but in particular the smaller and medium size businesses.
“There is a potential skills crisis in our advanced manufacturing and engineering firms in particular. Women are seriously under-represented and I know only too well the barriers to developing careers in industry.
“We need to get more women into engineering, then into junior, middle and senior management positions if we are to play a bigger part in the modern, dynamic global economy.”
Winters left Bangor High School at 16 with basic GSCEs and signed up for a two-year apprenticeship in electrical/electronic engineering that led to the HNC qualification at Lisburn Training Centre.
She went on to work as an electronics test technician with DDL in Craigavon, then to Nortel at Newtownabbey as a quality engineer before joining ETC(NI) in 2005, becoming Chief Executive last year.
She has since completed a BA (Hons) in Business Management and is currently working towards an MSc in Business Improvement.
Winters said: “My own background as a female engineering apprentice enables me to relate to the requirements of both employers and apprentices.
“Demand for skills is growing rapidly particularly in technology sectors and advanced manufacturing especially aerospace. If we are to compete for business in international markets, Northern Ireland needs to focus on skills for both existing and future industries. This requires greater investment in apprenticeship programmes which combine practical skills in-house with relevant academic courses – engaging girls as well as boys.”