In search of ladies’ fingers

Posted on 31 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

The need to create better gender balance in the manufacturing and engineering sectors has risen to the surface once again.

The issue has been bubbling under the surface of recent industry debate – it is referenced in the National Strategic Skills Audit for England, industry spokespersons such as EAL’s Ann Watson have posted comment on The Manufacturer website and The Times exposed the matter in the broadsheets.

In an attempt address this chronic industry bugbear Improve, Sector Skills Council for the food and drink industry and the National Skills Academy have secured government funding for the re-launch of the Women and Work programme which began in 2006.

Women and Work offers a broad range of training, qualification short courses and coaching sessions which are all subsidised to incentivise. This new iteration of the programme will be a larger enterprise than the first offering grants of £650 in three focused streams.

• Women in Industry: Supporting access and retention of women in male-dominated sectors through careers guidance, vocational qualifications, and training or re-training in specific skills where there is an identified need
• Women in the Lead: Supporting career progression into supervisory and line-management roles through training in specific techniques such as supervision, negotiation, risk management and project management
• Women in Business: Supporting increased earning potential for women through a range of mentoring learning and training aimed at accessing middle and higher management positions

A further improvement made with this re-launch is a more intelligent and informed approach to skills development. Liz Pattison, Head of Skills Solutions at the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing, says “The last Women and Work scheme was focused very specifically on subsidised management training. With our on-going assessment of the industry’s skills needs and the development of the National Skills Academy provider network, we are now in a position to take a more holistic approach to addressing the broader issues women face with employment in food and drink through a more flexible range of solutions.”

The food and drink industry is the UKs largest manufacturing sector and yet women make up just a third of its workforce and their presence is on the decline. Increasing the female fraction could reap great reward in terms of national productivity.

Pattison expands “There is a real need to address this massive gender imbalance and unlock the talent women have for the future good of the industry. There are skills gaps and shortages in every sector of food and drink, and the industry needs to recruit around 60,000 extra people to management, professional and technical positions by 2017. Increasing entry and retention of women at all levels, improving opportunities for career progression and increasing earning potential can play a vital role in addressing these needs, and the Women and Work initiative has been developed to provide a solution which will reach out to women right across the industry.”

Training under the initiative will be funded through a matched contribution arrangement. Training programmes will have to cost a minimum of £750 to be eligible for the subsidy, with employers asked to fund the difference. In addition, employers will be required to make a contribution in kind – time, travel, accommodation, facilities and other resources – of £900 per trainee.