Author: Carys Dineen, Senior Project Coordinator, MADE Cymru
Wales’ proud history of manufacturing dates back to the Industrial Revolution. From traditional textiles to luxury cars, the UK is known globally for producing high quality goods that appeal to customers all over the world
Yet our industry is facing a crisis. Research by STEM Learning has shown that 7 in 10 businesses struggle to find staff with the STEM skills required for careers in engineering and manufacturing. The skills shortage is estimated to cost UK businesses £1.5bn every year due to the need for extra recruitment, temporary staffing, specialist training and inflated salaries for qualified staff.
A solution to this problem could be found by incentivising more women to pursue STEM-related careers. Only 11% of engineers in the UK are women. So why aren’t more girls working towards roles in this lucrative and rewarding profession?
Chwarae Teg, a charity that supports women in Wales to develop their skills and build rewarding careers, explored this issue in its Bright report. Half the respondents questioned for the report knew women who had given up STEM subjects because of the male dominated cultures associated with them.
Providing opportunities for women in STEM
The shortage of female STEM specialists is a challenge we’re trying to overcome through our work at MADE Cymru, a suite of EU-funded projects supported by the European Structural and Investment Funds through the Welsh Government and delivered by University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
With two fully-funded masters programmes (and smaller bite-sized modules) and opportunities to explore cutting-edge technologies in one of Wales’ leading innovation hubs, our support schemes help men and women to equip themselves with the knowledge and techniques they need for successful careers in STEM.
While men currently outnumber women on our programmes, we are noticing a gradual increase in our female cohort – females now make up a third of our student numbers. The women we teach come from a variety of backgrounds – some work for big-name brands like Energizer, while others have taken on roles in successful homegrown Welsh manufacturers like Melin Tregwynt (a Pembrokeshire-based wool mill) and Red Dragon Flagmakers (a Swansea-based social mission business that supports its local community through specialist training and job creation).
Sophia Watts, a textile designer and production planning manager at Melin Tregwynt, chose to study through MADE Cymru to increase her knowledge of manufacturing techniques. Discovering a need for greater sustainability in textile production encouraged Sophia to learn more about the innovative manufacturing techniques and technologies that can be used to solve this global problem.
“By completing the MADE Cymru course, I hope to gain further skills and knowledge about innovation, and to apply this to Melin Tregwynt’s sustainability goals,” says Sophia.
Creating a welcoming work environment for female manufacturers
The passion and drive embodied by women like Sophia show that there are rewarding opportunities to be found in manufacturing careers. MADE Cymru hopes to incentivise more women to build successful careers in STEM by demonstrating diversity in manufacturing via our lecturers and teaching staff.
A recent guest lecture on our International Innovation Management programme featured Alice De Casanove, culture evolution and innovation director at Airbus. Alice has previously been nominated ‘Woman Innovator of the Year’ for a project that involved monitoring beehives using satellites. Female leaders like Alice act as role models for the next generation of manufacturers; by celebrating their successes, we hope to instil a culture of gender equality among our students that they will take with them into the working world.
Another way to overcome the gender imbalance in STEM careers is to provide opportunities for flexible working. According to an article in Personnel Today, women often miss out on work-based training for reasons such as working in part-time roles or juggling family and life commitments. The events of 2020 have shown how many training and career opportunities can be taken advantage of from home; our courses are designed with flexibility in mind to fit around the lives of our participants, allowing anyone to benefit from upskilling opportunities regardless of gender or lifestyle.
While there is still much to be done to close the UK’s STEM skills shortage and encourage women to pursue careers in manufacturing, it’s heartening to see that there are signs of an industry-wide change. As of 2019, there are now over a million women in STEM careers, representing an increase of over 350,000 in the last ten years. Meanwhile, the number of women in engineering has almost doubled in the last decade, from just over 25,000 to approximately 50,000.
At MADE Cymru, we’re proud to be doing our part for women in manufacturing, and welcome the work of organisations like Chwarae Teg who continue to fight for greater workplace equality across all industries.