Woman with flowing brunette hair in a white dress looking to camera against a background of forest foliage.
Caroline Spillane. Image: Engineers Ireland

‘Young girls need to see what a career in engineering is like’

6 Mar 2019

To build the Ireland of the future that present society needs, the engineering pipeline needs to improve and get more diverse, as Engineers Ireland’s Caroline Spillane explains.

Every time that Engineers Week rolls around, it underlines a truth that is evident all year round: engineers are, and will continue to be, in sharp demand.

Any discussion about skills shortages in the economy tends to quickly pivot towards a dearth of engineering professionals. Of the various lofty plans outlined in the Irish Government’s Project 2040, infrastructural upgrades feature heavily. Yet the problem remains that even with the high demand, attractive conditions and lucrative salaries, the industry still needs more people. This is something that Caroline Spillane, director general of Engineers Ireland, hopes to address.

In the Engineering 2019 report released today (6 March), there are many attention-grabbing statistics, but the one that surprises and concerns Spillane most is that only 43pc of people feel confident explaining what an engineer actually does. That figure shrinks to 35pc for parents of secondary school children.

As Engineers Week focuses primarily on stoking an interest in engineering careers from a young age, Spillane is immediately concerned that this gulf of information will impact nascent conversations with parents about what a child wants to do with their life.

‘Everybody is struggling with this big question of how you get more young girls interested in STEM’

“If there is a significant gap for people in being able to describe to their children what an engineer does, it makes it difficult for them to think about engineering as a potential career.”

It’s why many of the events for Engineers Week are infused with playful, collaborative energy. Ranging from family fun days to Lego-themed events, the week hopes to communicate that engineering is not only a rewarding career, but one that is accessible and fun.

Getting this message across takes on a new sense of urgency when you look at industry statistics about skills shortages. As many as 94pc of the engineering employers surveyed consider a shortage of engineers to be a barrier to growth. Whatever projects that may be brewing will likely screech to a halt.

“If we look at the number of young people in college [studying engineering], it’s not sufficient for the future. [Companies] are reporting yet again this year that their financial position is going to improve. They expect that they’re going to be recruiting engineers but at the same time they’re saying the pipeline of engineers is not sufficient,” said Spillane.

Helping young people visualise themselves working as engineers will be vital not only in addressing skills shortages, but dealing with the stubborn gender gap in the field. Just 13pc of engineering graduates in Ireland are female, and the figure has not changed significantly since the last edition of the report.

“Everybody is struggling with this big question of how you get more young girls interested in STEM. I think that young girls need to see what the career prospects might be like; they need to hear from engineers and hear what kind of job it is … engineering is all about problem-solving, it’s all about teamwork and communication, and it’s about design and creativity. A lot of these things are very appealing for young girls in particular. I think the challenge that we have is getting that across,” said Spillane.

The Engineering 2019 report was launched today for Engineers Week and events continue until 8 March.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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