How to inspire the next generation of female talent in STEM
By Justine Salmon, Division Director, ABM UK
The facilities management (FM) and engineering industry has an image problem that needs to change. People don’t know about the opportunities it offers, and can often think it’s all about men and oily rags. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
As an industry, we’re seeing the impact of these negative perceptions. There’s an acute lack of emerging female talent and a growing skills gap across the board.
Looking into the roots of this problem, ABM UK commissioned research amongst 2,000 students1 to find out what they knew about the industry and its career prospects. Worryingly, the research found that a fifth (21%) of girls associated ‘engineering’ with ‘a boy’s job’. Going further, over a third (39%) of students said they wouldn’t consider working in engineering and FM because they didn’t know anything about it.
To address this, ABM UK set up the Junior Engineering Engagement Programme (J.E.E.P.) in 2017, engaging year seven students with the principles of facilities management and engineering in a five-part course.
In just three years, the programme has grown from 36 London students enrolled in the pilot year, to now having been taught to over 450 students across the UK. We’re seeing first-hand how initiatives like J.E.E.P. can get students, particularly girls, interested in STEM subjects and inspire the next generation of technical talent.
If you’re looking to engage girls with STEM subjects, consider the following three steps.
- Make STEM applicable to everyday life.
One of the most effective ways to get young girls interested in FM-related activities is to apply lessons to real-life scenarios. Think about simple ways to make theory more engaging and use relatable scenarios to build upon their initial interest.
Our curriculum tasks the students with responding to FM problems that teams need to anticipate or respond to in real life, such as a black out in a shopping centre during peak hours. The students are challenged to identify the cause of the issue, create an immediate solution and look at a possible long-term fix. By encouraging problem-solving in a familiar environment, the association of FM with a specific gender is deconstructed.
2. Present relevant role models.
One of the most rewarding aspects of J.E.E.P. is session three, where team members from across ABM UK visit schools for a Q&A about the industry.
It’s so important to have female representation in the class to demonstrate that careers in FM and engineering aren’t solely for men. We celebrate our accomplishments, career paths and projects that we’re working on, and encourage them to think about other women in the industry who have made significant changes to society.
3. Put emphasis on the process, not on grades.
At the end of the course, our J.E.E.P. students aren’t given a final grade. We want to be encouraging students to broaden their perspectives and try something new, rather than focus on their scores.
When introducing students into new fields of learning, encouragement is key. Turn their focus to the experiment they’re working on and reassure them that mistakes are unavoidable and will only help guide them to a solution. Without fear that making mistakes will impact their scores, we find that students become confident working through trial and error.
We are determined to change the face of FM and engineering in the UK; to inspire and establish a new and enthusiastic generation of young talent that is gender even. New government data2 shows that in 2019, the number of women working in STEM- related occupations in the UK reached one million for the first time. If this trend continues, we should see 30 percent of STEM roles filled by women by 2030.
While this is great progress, we see this as an opportunity to do more. What better way to engage female talent, than to focus our attention on the next generation.