Network Rail has announced plans to boost the number of women joining the industry. Bold targets aimed at increasing female employees to 20 per cent by 2020 will help address the shortfall in engineers required for the rapidly expanding railway.

Network Rail flagged off the new initiative during the recent National Apprenticeship Week and International Women’s Day, announcing a new engagement programme with schools. Rail chiefs want to inspire young women to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Says Helen Samuels, Network Rail’s engineering director, ‘Engineering is basically problem-solving. Sometimes it’s maths, but sometimes it’s helping people to understand what you are doing and why, or figuring out how to build something for less money. Diverse teams are important for this, and having a mixture of skills sets in these problem-solving situations is key. One of the most common myths is that engineering is a ‘dirty’ profession. Many engineering roles are based either part time or full time in an office environment, although I really enjoy the cut and thrust of site work.’

Boys only?

Of the 12,000 graduate engineers the UK produces every year, one in five are women. British industry needs 54,000 a year or our economy will suffer, says WISE – Women in Science and Engineering. According to WISE research shows that the majority of teachers – 82 per cent – admit they don’t have the appropriate knowledge to advise pupils on their career choices.

‘There is still a wide perception that engineering jobs are for boys only,’ says Loraine Martins, Network Rail’s director of diversity and inclusion. ‘Many of the outdated stereotypes about what makes certain
career choices male or female continue to be engrained within some children from a really young age, often passed down through parents, families and teachers.

‘Our own research has shown that girls as young as seven believe that engineering is not an option for them, which is why we need to do everything we can to educate children, parents and teachers about the vast array of jobs within the sector. Attracting and retaining a diverse mix of talent is essential not only for our business, but also for the UK economy as a whole.’

Flying High

Emma Taylor, who joined Network Rail as an apprentice, is now a National Aerial Survey Specialist, responsible for operating camera equipment mounted on Network Rail’s surveillance helicopter.

‘I work all over the country so no day is ever the same. The aircraft surveys the whole of the rail network from above and looks for any potential faults with the equipment along the infrastructure. My job is to spot flaws before a failure occurs as this helps to keep the network running safely and smoothly.

‘The best part of my job is the travel. I’ve travelled across the entire country now and have seen it all from above, sometimes I have to pinch myself because it is so breath-taking. I also get to meet lots of different people which is so interesting, including many of our engineers who come up in the helicopter with us.’

Network Rail staff will be going into schools across the country to deliver educational sessions on careers in the STEM sector throughout 2017.