Dr Ollie Folayan, Chairman of the Aberdeen-based Association for BME Engineers (AFBE-UK) comments on recent calls by Naomi Climer of the IET for quotas to be introduced to bring more women into engineering in the UK.
Dr Folayan (left) acknowledges that women and ethnic minority groups are under-represented in the industry, but points out that initiatives are in place to help inspire future engineers and bring more diversity to the oil and gas industry.
But he also asks: Will the industry embrace diversity when the North Sea picks up again, or will previous mistakes be repeated?
By Dr. OLLIE FOLAYAN
It’s a hot industry topic: how to address the long-term skills shortage agenda when recruitment across the North Sea is at a low?
Employers are faced with the constant challenge of reducing costs while ensuring that they have the skilled workers in place to deliver quality project execution – today and tomorrow.
For example, the decision made by some key industry players not to hire any graduates this year could be detrimental in the long-term to sustained growth. That break in continuity then has to be remedied later often at significantly greater cost by alternative means when the industry begins to recover.
This sequence of events appears to occur repeatedly in the oil and gas industry resulting in a less efficient system. Couple this fact with the general shortage of skills in engineering and an altogether bleak picture of the future emerges.
According to an article published in The Economist in April 2015, Engineering UK issued a dire warning that Britain currently has a shortfall annually of around 55,000 people with engineering skills.
A different approach is therefore required; one which focuses on the long term and also seeks to nurture and retain talent from all sectors of society; a robust system that achieves in a manner of speaking, continuity through diversity.
It goes without saying that although Britain has a rich history of technological achievement; many groups are still under-represented in engineering.
Twenty per cent of engineering graduates are of black and minority ethnic (BME) origin; however research conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering found that only 6% of those graduates have progressed into the UK labour market. Campaigns that are targeted at these communities are essential if the current skills gap is to be bridged.
One must of course stress that BME is not the only group which isn’t adequately represented in engineering.
Naomi Climer, the new president of the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), recently gave focus to the lack of females in engineering and called for quotas to be introduced to boost the number of women working in the industry.
The fact that the institution appointed its first female president in its 144-year history is a significant step forward; however it is clear much work needs to be done to redress the balance.
A survey conducted by the IET last year concluded that just 6% of our engineering workforce is female: the lowest proportion of female engineers of any EU country. In addition, Engineering UK found that only 51% of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) female graduates are actually working in STEM roles.
Naomi Climer makes an excellent point. Teams which are mixed and more diverse tend to lead to improved creativity, and ultimately produce better solutions to problems faced by engineers.
This is what we, at AFBE-UK have sought to address through initiatives such as NextGen and Transition, programmes which are geared at inspiring a new generation of engineering talent.
NextGen, an initiative which recently held its first event in Aberdeen, is aimed at 12-18 year-olds and involved a series of games and challenges designed to enhance would-be engineers’ problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills.
Activities included designing and constructing key elements of the oil and gas industry including an oil rig and a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) using Lego pieces.
Transition is a programme open to university students in Aberdeen, which looks to prepare undergraduate and postgraduate students for life in the engineering industry.
As part of the scheme events are held which feature: networking, mock interviews and assessment centres, CV reviews and talks about life in the engineering sector, as well as visiting schools, colleges and universities to give talks about career-paths in engineering.
These key initiatives ran by AFBE-UK, really can make a difference, and help put an end to the lack of diversity in the engineering industry.
The nature of engineering, certainly in the oil and gas industry, is cyclical. Healthier times will return to the North Sea, and out there are untapped markets of people who could bring diversity, culture and new ways of thinking to the sector.
The question, however, is this: When rosier times do come our way, will the industry be ready to embrace it with a new, diverse and skilled workforce?
Or will we find ourselves in much the same position as we have done previously – with a gap in skilled workers, and a workforce not representative of the population?