Are women the workforce of the future for the energy industry?

Paul Boughton

Fewer than one in 10 engineering professionals in Britain is a woman. Angela Wilson reports on the campaigns that are being launched to attract more females into the industry

In a time where unemployment figures are at an all time high and graduates are struggling to find jobs, many future students are carefully considering what career paths they should take.

With statistics being bounced around by business leaders that fewer than one in 10 engineering professionals in Britain is a women, the lowest proportion in the EU, it is no wonder that campaigns are being launched to get the UK of the back foot and attract significantly more females into the industry.

As the leading representative body for the energy industry in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Energy North conducted its third annual Energy and Engineering Skills Survey earlier this year.

With the recent economic downturn hampering growth plans for many organisations, employment strategies had to be altered resulting in a freeze on recruitment or even redundancies. While this is a natural knee-jerk reaction, companies must consider the impact this will have when the economy recovers. Nobody wants to lose their best staff, especially to its competitors, and these are difficult and costly skills to replace.[Page Break]

The majority of the companies who participated in the survey predicted that they will increase their workforce over the next year, but were concerned as to where these skilled employees will come from.

Analysis of Scottish population demographics indicate that 56 per cent of working age population should be below 45. However, within our industry, managerial, fabrication, operations and production staff are typically older. In comparison to the UK averages, our research again showed that the workforce in the North of Scotland is typically older, highlighting the significant loss of younger employees.

While news of an aging workforce is no revelation, its impact is taking effect. Engineering skills topped the table of skills lost through retirement, and these are notoriously difficult roles to fill. Looking at the recent vacancies and predicted skills requirements among our sample of respondents indicated that the demand for engineering skills will be strong for the next five years.

With the likes of countries such as Australia, who are set to experience an oil boom, putting a real emphasis into attracting the UK's skilled energy workforce, we are at real danger of losing our best employees to international markets.[Page Break]

When looking at the demographics of the workforce, our research illustrated that there were very few women in the engineering roles, and mirroring that of recent reports, these figures were below the UK averages.

So what can be done to mitigate the lack of skilled engineers, among a number of other roles? Succession planning is vital and women could hold the key to the skills shortage in the UK's energy industry.

Angela Wilson is Business Development Manager, Energy North, Invergordon, Ross Shire, UK.

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