Female engineering academy on right path to bridge skills gap

A recently-launched women-only engineering academy in Sheffield has set itself on the right path for bridging the skills gap that has been plaguing the nation.

Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 4:18 pm
Updated Monday, 25th October 2021, 3:42 pm
Liberty Steel female engineering students at Sheffield College. Fatma Ali. Picture Scott Merrylees

Based at The Sheffield College’s Olive Grove campus, Liberty Steel Female Engineering Academy was opened on September 16 to help address skills shortages and ultimately, boost the region’s economic growth.

And it looks quite promising, as the first batch of students of eight started their studies earlier last month, in a move to break that gender barrier in a male-dominated industry.

Although engineering has a key role in driving the economy and productivity, it has been forecast that job vacancies in the sector will represent 17% of all vacancies by 2024.

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Women are also under-represented. According to Engineering UK and Women in Engineering, only 12% of the engineering workforce is female and the UK also has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe.

But it is time to change that figure for the better, with the signing of a partnership agreement between the college and Liberty Speciality Steels, in Stocksbridge and Rotherham which promises a brighter future prospect for aspiring engineers.

Rachel Topliss, The Sheffield College’s head of employer-academy partnerships and work-related activity said: “Traditionally, females still see engineering as very male-dominated where they have to work in a cold and dirty environment.

“We’ve worked really hard to talk to them about career pathways, engineering design, product design and other areas of engineering that are just not in the workshop.

“By using the company like Liberty Steel, who have a diverse range of roles within the company, it really showcases what the career pathway could be.”

She said the academy gives more emphasis on career pathways instead of giving a sole focus on the courses.

And it is no wonder that this method sits well with the students enrolled in the first intake, as this could help give them the right qualifications to progress in their studies, and later in their career.

For 17-year-old Nyacheng Jok John of Gleadless Valley, she said she chose engineering as she has always wanted to become an aerospace engineer.

“I want to be a pilot because I like flying. There are not many women in the industry and particularly aerospace engineering and I want to break that barrier that women can be an engineer as well.

A 16-year-old student from Rotherham said she aspires to become a mechanical engineer with the Royal Air Force, following the footsteps of her grandfather.

“I want to get a career with the RAF. I studied it in high school and it was something I enjoyed. I like the practical sides of doing this, like going down at the workshop and making the equipment,” said Charlotte Chamberlain.

But for Fatma Ali, 19 of Upperthorpe, getting into engineering was another field that she found interesting besides studying business, which she was also fond of.

“I did business for two years and I took a year gap because I wanted to do something else that i was interested in and engineering seemed to be the course.

“I want to do business in the future, maybe business in engineering, you never know,” she said.

Ms Topliss said all of the girls in the academy will have a formal interview with the Liberty at the end of their studies.

“We haven’t guaranteed that they will have a job after the interview but Liberty is looking at taking some of the girls straightaway.

“They will also get references so they get to have them on their CV as well, whether or not there was a job opportunity,” she said.