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Women in Engineering

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Opportunities in Civil and Structural engineering are on the rise as Ireland’s construction industry continues to go from strength to strength. However, the effects of the recession are still having an impact on consultancies struggling to find the talent they need to keep up with the increased workload.

In 2007, a total of 16,014 students enrolled in construction related courses, at the height of the recession many of those graduates were forced to emigrate in order to secure employment. Fast forward ten years and the number of students enrolled has almost halved to 8,541.

As a result, we are now seeing a massive shortage of junior and intermediate level civil and structural engineers. Logically, the number of students enrolling must increase in order to satisfy this demand.

One way to solve this issue is to encourage more women to enter the sector. In 2014, only 15% of engineering graduates were female.

Anne-Marie Conibear, Director & Civil Engineer, and Erica Lund, Mechanical Engineer, both at JB Barry, one of Ireland’s leading consultancies, have taken the road less travelled and thoroughly enjoyed their journey.

A recent Science Foundation Ireland survey reported 62% of students’ main concern when choosing a college course was fitting in with their peers, a daunting prospect for two female students starting out in engineering.

The change in environment was the first thing that struck Anne-Marie, “It was a big shock, going from an all-girls school to college, surrounded by men!” Erica saw it as a valuable learning curve, “You get used to it after a few months and once you’re out the other end you’re ready for anything!”

University is one thing, but finding your feet in a workplace where you are very much in the minority is a different beast altogether.

“There can be advantages and disadvantages to being a female in the industry. People used to be so amazed female engineers existed, especially on site, that they actually treated you very differently. Today, people are more accepting and it’s just not an issue”, says Anne–Marie.

With a combined 40 years’ experience in engineering behind them, both women agree they have had no major negative interactions.

According to the Hays Ireland Gender Diversity Report, 82% of women believe gender barriers exist in their industry but thankfully this doesn’t appear to be the case in the engineering sector.

Happily, neither Anne-Marie nor Erica felt that being a woman had any influence on their career opportunities. “I didn’t feel any limit as to what I could do. I always felt my choices were my own to make, rather than ones the industry made for me” said Erica.

An unfortunate by-product of an industry with a low number of women is the lack of senior women to act as mentors and role models to female staff. The Hays Ireland What Workers Want Report found 48% of employees would like a mentor, which must increase the pressure on a Director like Anne-Marie. As one of the first female directors in an Irish engineering company, Anne-Marie has had a very positive reaction from her colleagues and relishes the opportunity to inspire.

From role models like Anne-Marie and Erica, to teachers and parents, it is clear there is a lot of work to be done to break the stereotype that engineering is ‘just for men’ and offer better support for girls with an interest in STEM related subjects. Teen-Turn, the programme aimed at changing teenage girls’ attitudes to jobs in tech, has flourished in recent years, could engineering learn something from this very successful project?

Construction activity, across Ireland, will continue to rise and so will the demand for engineers, which means graduates, both male and female, can look forward to very positive career prospects. As a Civil or Structural Engineer, you will work on varied and interesting projects, including the new Children’s Hospital, the Curragh Racecourse and infrastructure works at Dublin Port and Dublin Airport. You will also have the opportunity to travel and will earn a competitive salary, with many graduate salaries ranging between €27,000 and €30,000.

Not only are salaries becoming more attractive, the added benefits are also improving rapidly. With 88% of jobseekers (Hays Ireland What Workers Want Report) taking flexible working into account when planning their next move it is no surprise that companies have reacted accordingly. Engineering firms commonly offer flexible working and opportunities to work from home, benefitting women in engineering, inside and outside the office.

A concerted effort in schools to encourage girls to consider engineering related courses, the creation of programmes similar to TeenTurn and the continued development of mentors like Anne-Marie and Erica will undoubtedly create a future where female engineers are a much more common sight.

“More female engineers will benefit the industry from a diversity point of view,” said Anne-Marie, “and if we are serious about plugging the skills shortage at junior and intermediate level then attracting more females should be a priority.”

To find out more, or to discuss your recruitment needs, please contact your local consultant


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