Industry boss urges reform to boost women in manufacturing

Posted on 28 Oct 2019 by The Manufacturer

The MD of a fast-growing precision engineering firm has called for an industry-wide shift in the way women and girls are attracted into the world of manufacturing, describing the current approach as "best-intentioned" but lacking.

Jason Aldridge, managing director of Arrowsmith Engineering in Coventry, urged the government, business and academia to rethink the way manufacturing careers are promoted among female talent – and recommended they tap into girl power when it comes to marketing the sector.

He said that despite “best-intentioned” efforts to draw more females into industry, “there is still a worrying lack of female employees coming through the ranks”, and that one way to remedy the disparity would be to “put them in charge of designing the marketing and routes of engagement.”

CNC Machinists Sue Elton and Misha Patel, Arrowsmith Engineering

CNC Machinists Sue Elton and Misha Patel, Arrowsmith Engineering

More than 80% of manufacturers experience problems recruiting new staff and yet barely 11% of engineers are women, according to research by the British Chambers of Commerce and the Women’s Engineering Society.

Putting to practice what it preaches, Arrowsmith has stepped up its recruitment offering among local schools, colleges and public sector organisations that has in turn led to more female representation at the company. Misha Patel, Arrowsmith’s first ever female apprentice has been taken under the wing of Sue Elton, the business’s longest-standing female machinist, so she can benefit from her years of experience.

Finding out what “interests and motivates” women and girls should be top priorities for business and academia, Aldridge said. Adding that government “could be more creative” in offering initiatives that will drive more female ambassadors to industry to become “recruiters of the future”.

“We are all to blame in our own way”

Watching a “high-octane, boyish” engineering film during an awards ceremony prompted Aldridge’s attitude shift, when his wife suggested the “James Bond” style of the film appealed mostly to a male audience. “It was only then that the penny dropped,” he said.

“Perhaps we should actually find out from women what interests them and give them the power to drive the marketing and engagement of our sector. Despite numerous best-intentioned efforts to increase the number of women on engineering courses, apprenticeships and other entry programmes into industry, there is still a worrying lack of female employees coming through the ranks.

“We are all to blame in our own way. Education, with just an average of 10% of females on their engineering courses, needs to stop being so arrogant and consider new ways of recruitment, whilst manufacturers – both small, medium, large and multi-national – have to make a much better effort to create design studios, quality departments, sales offices and shop floors that are more welcoming and encouraging.”

“It’s not about doing the right thing to feel good about yourself, it simply makes good business sense”

A proactive approach to its engineering placements in the local area, its apprentice drive from the Manufacturing Technology Centre and interns from Coventry University has led to an increased female presence in Arrowsmith’s Quality, Commercial, Finance, Inspection, Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) and CNC Machining capacity.

Aldridge said his company had to do “a bit of work” ensuring its facilities were acceptable to cope with an increased female workforce, adding that a more balanced team had positively impacted Arrowsmith’s operational and financial performance.“It’s not about doing the right thing to feel good about yourself or to tick the ‘CSR’ box, it simply makes good business sense,” he said.

By Rory Butler, Digital Journalist

Main image from Desposit Photos