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More women in engineering and manufacturing can help plug the skills gap, claims MP

The skills gap in the North East’s manufacturing and engineering sector could be reduced by encouraging more women to work in the industry according to MP for Newcastle Central, Chi Onwurah.

At the latest meeting of the Advanced Manufacturing Forum (AMF), held at One Trinity Green in South Shields on August 4, the MP suggested that it was a “scandal” that half of the potential skills pool is not utilised due to fewer women entering the manufacturing sector than men.

The current skills gap is a growing problem, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The Employer Skills Survey 2015, published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills reported that ‘hard to fill’ vacancies in manufacturing were at 35%.

Furthermore, addressing the gender imbalance in manufacturing – and making the sector more attractive to women – is a pressing issue, with women only making up 8.2% of the UK’s professional engineers and only 14.4% of the science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) labour force, according to WISE – a campaign to promote women in science, technology and engineering.

The AMF’s monthly meetings aim to provide a platform to share best practice amongst members and regularly feature guest speakers. This month’s meeting also saw discussion around the Northern Powerhouse, the importance of lifelong learning in manufacturing and engineering and how to encourage more young people into the sector – a key objective for the AMF.

Commenting on the skills gap, Chi Onwurah, who is a chartered engineer, stated: “I would obviously like to see far more women in manufacturing and technology. It’s a scandal that we are missing out on about half of our potential skills pool by not having the same rates of women going into manufacturing as we do men. That’s something that needs to change.”

The MP also suggested that the North east should have more control of how skills investment is spent. She stated: “I think skills and infrastructure are probably the two most important areas where we need investment and focus. I would like to see more devolution of skills funding.”

Jack Hanwell, manufacturing sector development manager at the AMF, stated: “It’s highly important that we encourage women to pursue a career in manufacturing and engineering to help plug the skills gap and address the current gender imbalance. Part of the AMF’s work is visiting schools and other educational institutions to offer careers advice and to promote the variety of roles available to inspire young people to work in the sector.”

The AMF aims to provide a platform where members can collectively share knowledge and best practice to create business growth, success and opportunities across the manufacturing industry and beyond. Dedicated to supporting organisations from a range of manufacturing disciplines, the Forum also has several sub-groups including HR, maintenance, finance and marketing.

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