Mind the gender gap in UK’s rail and engineering industry

Published: 10 Feb 2014

The UK’s new Crossrail network is an ambitious project worth £16 billion. It is expected to increase London’s rail-based network capacity by 10% supporting regeneration and reducing journey times across the city. It will be fully operational by 2018 and will cover 38 stations and run over 100km from Maidenhead and Heathrow Airport in the west, through new twin-bore tunnels below central London to Abbey Wood in the east.

An estimated 14,000 people will be employed between now and 2015 to complete the construction of the Crossrail network.  However, this projected figure has raised some very important issues of gender gap facing the UK’s engineering sector. Currently, only 19% of women are employed in this sector and the majority of them work in administrative roles.

Ailie MacAdam, the Crossrail Central Section Delivery Director, said: “As a country we are short of engineers, so if we ignore 50 per cent of the potential workforce we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. We have a responsibility to do more to address the issues, find out why women don’t pursue this line of work and provide the opportunities for them to be successful. It is also vitally important to reach out to young girls before they choose their path through education, to dispel myths, show girls that engineering is a viable option and how rewarding it can be.”

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Mr MacAdam also commented that working as a part of a diverse team tends to deliver better results. He wants the Crossrail to make a real difference and give more and more women an opportunity to pursue a rewarding career in the engineering industry. He believes that motivating women to be a part of the Crossrail project will make a huge difference and will encourage diversity in this sector.

Crossrail has invested and created a £13 million Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) to attract new talent to the engineering industry. This facility will offer training to acquire the skills needed to work in tunnel excavation and underground construction. A graduate and apprenticeship programme has also been launched, under which 260 apprentices have already been employed for the Crossrail project. Through the lifetime of the project’s supply chain, at least 400 apprenticeships will be delivered. The Crossrail has also launched the ‘Young Crossrail’ education programme that will work to inspire young people to take up careers in the engineering field. 

Allie MacAdam said: “TUCA is a wonderful facility in which to train the UK’s future tunnelling experts, I want to see more talented young women taking up this unique opportunity on Crossrail, and joining me on tomorrow’s projects to build greater British infrastructure.”

By 2026, Crossrail is expected to support the creation of 30,000 jobs in central London. Undoubtedly, there is a huge demand in the engineering sector to attract and retain a larger pool of talent. The Crossrail network is expected to boost the UK economy by £20 billion; to support this world-class infrastructure, the need for engineering talent is exceedingly being felt in the country.


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