This International Women in Engineering Day, it’s crucial we highlight both the opportunities available to women and girls in engineering and the vital role of employers in supporting their careers and closing the skills gap, says Baxi’s Kerrie Doherty
On 23 June, we at Baxi will be one of many companies taking time to celebrate the successes of women throughout the wider engineering sector and, in particular, in our own heating industry.
Changing the way energy is used in buildings – especially decarbonising heating and hot water – is vital for the UK to achieve a safer, more secure and more sustainable future. Whether out in the field or creating and developing new products, female engineers play a critical role in driving improved energy efficiency and sustainability for communities and the environment.
The rich variety of opportunities in engineering makes it an exciting career prospect. Yet while some progress has been made to encourage girls to pursue a future in STEM industries, women are still firmly in the minority. According to the latest 2022 figures, women make up 16.5% of all engineers. (Source: Women’s Engineering Society). Admittedly that’s a 6% increase on the 10.5% in 2010, but there is much more work to do.
What’s more, creative engineering experts are in high demand at every level, with the much-reported skills gap requiring urgent attention. The heating industry is a case in point. It’s a time of considerable transformation as we work to support our customers through the energy transition. Creative, solutions focused, ingenious people will be needed in this area of engineering to design and implement the technologies we need both now and in the future. Encouraging more girls and women into the industry, with the necessary employer support, could be just the solution.
Building a brighter future
So where to start? Introducing the world of engineering at school level, through engaging projects such as those run by educational not-for-profit organisation Primary Engineer, is logical first step. Baxi is proud to be partnering with Primary Engineer for the second year running, supporting teachers in ten primary schools in Preston as they deliver the Primary Engineer Construction project to children in the area.
Aisha Siddique, a Mechanical Engineer degree apprentice at Baxi who participates in the Primary Engineer scheme, emphasises the need to encourage an interest in engineering from the early years.
“Engineering covers such a broad area that my friends still ask me to explain what I do!” she said. “We need to educate children on what an engineer does, and the wide variety of career paths open to them. Understanding why we’ve chosen this career and bringing engineering into the classroom is so valuable. The projects also really help develop essential skills like visualising, creative problem-solving, testing and evaluation, improving and adapting, along with teamwork and communication – all of which come into play with engineering.”
Offering degree apprenticeships is another way that employers can help women forge successful careers in engineering.
Aisha has just completed the first year of her degree at the University of Bolton. She is currently working with the R&D team at Baxi but will spend time in various departments over the next few years to gain invaluable understanding of industry.
“I’m really enjoying my apprenticeship with Baxi,” Aisha said. “The experience I am gaining in the workplace is fantastic – it’s great to have a real-world context to my studies.”
Supporting the next generation through qualification will be crucial to seeing an increase in the number of girls pursuing a career in the sector, according to Madison Dowding, a service engineer apprentice at Baxi.
“I began the service apprenticeship straight after school,” said Madison. “I was daunted at first, but the support from the business, colleagues and my mentors has been brilliant and has really pushed me to excel in my role – so much so that I won apprentice of the year at college and now I’m ready for the next step in my career.”
Creating a safer workplace
From inspiring women engineers to driving behavioural change, it’s heartening to see businesses actively work to remove discrimination in the broader construction sector to create a safer workplace.
Led by our MD Karen Boswell, Baxi is a founding partner of the Construction Inclusion Coalition, an initiative created by construction sector giant Travis Perkins to drive increased equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the building and construction industry.
Heating and hot water solutions are critical considerations for any building construction or refurbishment project, and we’re proud to be alongside some of the largest and most respected construction sector brands in the UK.
While the long-term ambition is to address the full spectrum of diversity, the short-term focus is to tackle gender discrimination and to achieve equity for all forms of underrepresented gender identities.
On a practical level, this has included actively changing the way we advertise roles to appeal to women as well as men and so encourage more women to apply to join our organisation. Providing a work environment that accommodates flexibility for different personal needs where possible is also beneficial in attracting female employees.
But of course, providing continued support for our women employees throughout their careers is critical. Anne Wraith Baxi’s Head of Building Services is one of the leaders of the Women’s Network for Baxi UK & Ireland, a group she helped set up to champion, coach and mentor women in the organisation. By boosting awareness of gender equality, the group aims to identify and address women’s concerns within the workplace, share best practices, and inspire positive change throughout the wider industry.
“When I began my career in this industry, it was very male dominated and there was far too much mansplaining!” Anne said. “People are more educated now and women are both accepted and respected – but it’s been a long time coming. It’s great to work for an employer who recognises and rewards our contribution and is one of the forerunners in promoting equity.”
At a time when it has never been more important to address the engineering skills shortage, a focus on behavioural change is essential. At Baxi, we are at the start of our journey. But change is happening. Like others in our sector, we are part of a transforming and transformational business that is growing to become what the world and the environment needs.
Kerrie Doherty is HR Recruitment Manager at Baxi