According to recent statistics from the Institute of Engineering and Technology, less than a tenth of the UK’s engineers are women.
This is the lowest percentage in the whole of Europe. Of the 100,000 registered Gas Safe engineers in the UK, fewer than 500 are female.
Here, David Holmes, founder of UK boiler repair service directory, Boiler Guide, explains some strategies businesses can use to attract more females to pursue a career in the industry.
A career as a heating engineer offers some great benefits whether you’re taking your first steps in your career or retraining as an adult:
- A competitive salary (especially for self-employed engineers) in a highly regulated industry.
- Great prospects for the future. Even with the move away from gas and oil to renewable systems, we will always need heating, and the next generation of heating engineers will be key players in the
battle against climate change.
- Physically and mentally challenging career as it requires skills in maths, scientific knowledge, dexterity and excellent customer service skills.
- Flexible working hours and varied projects.
With so few women in the industry, why and how should businesses be encouraging more women to buck the trend?
Why Attract More Women to the Heating Trade?
- Bringing more women into the heating industry will diversify the workforce which is essential to continued growth and development in any sector.
- Increasing the numbers of women in the industry could be key to avoiding a skills shortage as half of gas engineers due to reach retirement age in the next 10 years.
- It seems that there is a definite gap in the market as several surveys such as one by The Federation of Master Builders found that 35% of women would prefer to hire a female engineer.
How Can Businesses Attract More Women to the Heating Trade?
Be the Change
It’s not enough for businesses in the heating industry to be passively open to the idea of more female heating engineers. Instead, they need to actively and practically encourage and support women to enter and remain in the industry. Hattie Hasan is the founder of Stopcocks Women Plumbers and believes that long-term change needs to come from within the industry.
“Given the massive difference in the proportion of women to men in the industry, to expect the minority (the women) to be the ones to make this change is unrealistic, especially if many are young women fresh from college and at a disadvantage because of their age and relative inexperience. The industry is beginning to change, but slowly, and so slowly that impetus can be lost as long as it’s seen to be only an issue of concern for women.There is an increasing cohort of male heating engineers who support the growth in the number of women in the industry and several manufacturers now actively support women in the industry.”
Assuming that you have a presence on social media, your business should be positively interacting with female heating engineers and apprentices (via professional accounts). Twitter, in particular, is a popular platform for heating industry professionals looking to network, share expertise and support one another. This will help to raise their profile and you may even come across opportunities to be of practical help. If you see discrimination or sexism, take a positive stand as a busines and add your voice to the conversation.
Re-educate Young People
Young people develop perceptions about gender and their own capabilities very early in life, and our education and experiences set us on a path it can be very difficult to deviate from. Our parents, our school, our peers and the media give us very clear signals about which careers the genders are best suited to. Young people are our opportunity to effect long-term societal change.
If you are a female heating engineer or you employ one, perhaps you/she could arrange to visit local schools and talk to young girls and boys about the benefits of a career in the heating industry? This provides a positive role model for young people who may believe the career is reserved only for men or that women aren’t capable. Young people are all too often pushed towards certain industries from an early age or encouraged to go to university when it is not where their talents lie.
Promote Equal Opportunities
When advertising an apprenticeship, do you explicitly encourage boys, girls and adults (of either gender) to apply? One day (hopefully) it won’t be necessary to do so as more and more professions become non-gendered, but we’re not there yet. We need to actively show girls and women that they are welcome because for many the career may not have even occurred to them as an option.
Act as a Mentor
More and more women are leaving careers in other industries in search of something with more variation and greater flexibility, but according to Hattie Hasan of Stopcocks these women often “struggle to find an engineer to work with to complete their ‘gas hours’ or mentor them meaning they never make it into the industry.” Consider giving a woman who is changing careers the opportunity to shadow you or your engineers. While paid apprenticeships are obviously the ideal option, some women may be happy to work with you on a voluntary basis so they can get the experience they need.