Nina Sparks, general manager of Pladis’ bakery in Harlesden, asks how young women can be encouraged to take up engineering
Today, women are still under-represented across all levels of the UK’s engineering workforce. According to a recent study, only 11% of the UK’s engineering workforce is female, and just 15% of engineering undergraduates are women.
While we have made progress over the past five years, there is still a huge challenge ahead to inspire more young women to join the industry.
For many young people, hearing the word ‘engineering’ automatically brings up images of a job involving heavy machinery.
Many think of engineering roles as dirty and manual but, in fact, being creative, a team player and an excellent communicator are important aspects of the job. As a profession, we need to work hard to dispel outdated stereotypes.
Within our UK bakeries and innovation centres at Pladis, there is an outstanding pool of female talent. During my own career at the firm, I’ve had the chance to work across several areas, including managing production lines, multi-million-pound capital projects and looking after the maintenance of millions of pounds’ worth of bakery equipment.
For me, the best part about engineering is seeing projects go from concept and design right through to practical use. For example, I’ve seen state-of-the-art packing equipment come to life, working with the innovation team throughout the trials and seeing how we can bake and pack biscuits for millions of biscuit lovers. Now, I manage a team of 600 people who work in our Harlesden bakery, the largest in Europe.
It is important to help more role models within the engineering sector communicate, educate and actively encourage young women into the profession. This could range from informal chats with young talent to speeches at schools and universities. At Pladis, we’re committed to attracting a diverse array of talent through mentoring schemes and networking sessions, as well as apprenticeship and graduate programmes and we’re already seeing results: in our graduate cohort for 2017, over 50% are female.
Encouraging women to get into engineering is not just about improving career prospects and making the industry more equal, but also addressing skills shortages.
On International Women’s Day, there is a call-to-action to press forward and progress. I hope the engineering industry will embrace this challenge and work hard to achieve a more balanced workforce.