Engineering is one of several industries which has recently seen a significant upturn in the number of female employees. It should be no surprise, because organisations such as the Women’s Engineering Society have been around since 1919, fighting for their vision of ‘a nation in which women are as likely as men to choose to study and work in engineering.’
For South West College student Monica, it’s a natural situation. Monica says: “I don’t know where it was ever considered a ‘manly’ industry or anything like that. I’m a consultant and I work in an office much like an accountancy office or any other. There’s nothing manly or female about it. In the workplace there are still more men, but you never feel outnumbered in the classroom, and you’re always made feel welcome. I’d like to hope that in ten or fifteen years we’ll be even closer to a balance in the workplace.”
Monica is a Higher Level Apprentice (HLA), studying fist year Civil Engineering at South West College and working for Atkins Consultancy in Belfast. She has always had an interest in Engineering and decided that a HLA was a better option for her than university.
‘It always occurred to me that if I go to university I’m signing up for a four year course without any guarantee that I’ll like the career at the end of it, or even like the course. Here, with an apprenticeship, I could get into the workplace and gain a feel for whether I actually liked it. It seemed a better option, and now I’ve found out that I do enjoy the work, so it’s worked out well for me so far.’
One of the major challenges that comes with earning while you learn is of course balancing your working life with your educational study. However, Monica says that embracing this challenge is just another way of speeding up the process to becoming career ready.
‘It encourages you to balance your time effectively. You have the weekend to do your college work, so you have to find a schedule that works for you and make the most of it.’ She adds that the classes at SWC help create a learning environment that works well for her. ‘I enjoy the smaller classes we have here. You never feel afraid to ask for help. The tutors are so friendly and the facilities are so modern. It’s a great place to learn.’
Jill Halliday is another Higher Level Apprentice, working for Sacyr/Wills Bros/Somague JV on the A6 Dualling Scheme. Like Monica she has always had an interest in engineering.
‘My A-Level’s were IT, Engineering and Technology. After school, I decided that an apprenticeship was a better way forward for me than University. I thought it would suit me better. South West College was a college that was offered within the company I was working for and it was also available as a fast tracked course, which I could complete in two years, rather than three. I thought I’d get more experience working than I would at university and therefore, at the end of my studies, get more job opportunities.’
Part of the benefit of a HLA for Jill is the variation involved, the way she gets to enjoy a practical working life and also experience specific theory based learning. She explains that the two sides bring the best out of each another.
‘I’m in class on a Tuesday. I have to travel around an hour to get here, but it breaks the week up for me. It’s a day out of the office and it allows me to take a step back from the practical work, think about the theory behind it, and gain a better insight and understanding. That balance works well for me. What you learn in the classroom comes into practice when you go back to your workplace, and you gain a better understanding of it overall because of that, rather than sitting in lecturers at university and then just going home.’
All this makes for an enjoyable learning and work balance, so again, it’s no surprise that Jill expects more and more women to get involved in engineering.
‘There’s definitely more females getting involved in this industry now. We’ve been given more opportunities, and the ratio of men and women in the engineering sector is only going to become more balanced in the near future.’