Lynoslife’s Lorraine Corcoran writes about why more women should consider a career in engineering and how we can get set them up to succeed.
Today (23 June) marks International Women in Engineering Day. It’s also a week before the CAO change of mind deadline on 1 July, so it’s a good time to reflect on why more women should consider a career in engineering and how we can enable their success.
I was very fortunate in that I always knew I wanted to be engineer. From an early age, I was obsessed with space and wanted to be an astronaut. As a seven-year-old, my pipe dream was getting a scholarship to attend the Kennedy Space Center summer camps in the US. As a compromise, I reasoned that a lot of astronauts had engineering backgrounds, so I decided at 13 to become an engineer instead.
It has proven to be a rewarding decision, giving me the opportunities to travel and evolve my career according to my interests. The skills you have as an engineer are endlessly transferrable to business, IT, marketing, science, manufacturing, construction, architecture and more.
But women are a minority within this industry – according to Engineers Ireland, just 12pc of engineering professionals in Ireland. So how do we get more women interested in studying engineering and how do we ensure they are set up to succeed in third-level and beyond?
Seeing is believing
OECD figures indicate that only 14pc of bachelor in engineering graduates in Ireland are women, below the OECD average of 25pc.
We can’t underestimate the importance of visible representation when it comes to getting more women into the field. When I was in school, my career guidance teacher organised a trip to DIT Bolton Street to an Engineers Ireland conference. That was the first time I had the opportunity to meet female engineers and it was then that I realised that my dream could in fact become a reality.
We need to be presenting younger women with role models in the industry that they can relate to, highlighting the different career paths available and engaging with them while they are in schools.
So here’s my advice to young women considering a career in engineering, based on my own experience.
1. Research the different types of engineering
Engineering is a diverse field that is part of every facet of our life. Research the different disciplines so you understand the differences between them. From civil to mechanical, chemical to electrical, biomedical to aeronautical, industrial to manufacturing, the skillsets, career paths and applications differ greatly.
Think about where you want to end up and the type of role you want. Conjure up a vision of what you see yourself happily and passionately doing each day in 10 years’ time.
Different education institutions offer different approaches to how they structure their courses, with some heavily based in theory and others leaning towards a more practical approach. Look at the characteristics and modules of each course and decide what is the best fit for you.
With high drop-out rates in engineering courses reported nationally, picking the right course and institution that suits your interests, skillsets and approach to learning will be crucial.
2. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses
Critically review your own skillsets and natural aptitudes – what do you like, what are you good at and what are you willing to put the time into to improve? This should guide what course you pick and your resulting career path.
Don’t discount the value of doing certs, diplomas and apprenticeships as a stepping stone. They can be an invaluable way of finding out if engineering is the right profession for you and give you a strong foundation to go on to get further qualifications and job opportunities.
If you are interested in engineering, don’t underestimate the importance of maths. It underpins all aspects of the field. So even if you are not a maths whizz, you at least need to have a passion for it so that you will put in the necessary work and time it takes to learn and apply the principles.
3. Get experience and build your networks
One of the greatest pieces of advice I can give is to get hands-on work experience. If your course doesn’t offer practical experience, consider internships in the summer. The engineering community in Ireland is relatively small so start building your networks early. Link in with the likes of Engineers Ireland, get to know your lecturers and tutors, go to seminars and talk to other students in different colleges.
Don’t forget the power of communications and soft skills. From your first job interview to managing a team, it is important that you can represent yourself well, effectively get your points across and be able to work as part of a team to ensure that solutions to problems are achieved.
If you choose to pursue a career in engineering, while it is improving, you may be one of the only women in the room. Be confident and don’t limit yourself. If you put the hard work in, have the passion and drive and are open to new perspectives, a career in engineering will be a rewarding one.
Lorraine Corcoran is the co-founder and technical director of Lynoslife, a life sciences manufacturing company with bases in Mayo and Cork that creates cosmetic, skincare and wellness products.
Corcoran completed a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Limerick in 1998 and went on to work in companies such as Abbott, Medtronic, Hewlett-Packard and Boston Scientific.