Ways to create a more diverse workforce in the refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump industry were discussed at a careers breakfast event in Milton Keynes.
The IOR Women in RACHP gathering was organised by group chair Samantha Buckell and sponsored by hosts Bitzer UK, Fujitsu Air Conditioning and the ACR Journal.
Respected engineer and co-owner of training company Cool Concerns Jane Gartshore spoke of the need for a change of culture, adding: "Our industry is diverse, but only in a masculine way.'' She said that 99% of the engineers who attended training courses at Cool Concern s were male. Jane also stressed the importance of assuring young people that it was “OK not to go to university” and consider alternative routes into the workplace.
Lisa Pogson, Managing Director of Airmaster Air Conditioning, outlined the value of building relationships and trust and described how the company regularly visits local primary schools to engage pupils at as early an age as possible. She said: "It is sometimes too late by the time they get to secondary school, so we go into the primary school, show them the CAD drawings of a project we are working on and say 'cool, isn't it'.
Colleague Ian Fisher, Business Development Manager at Airmaster, came into the industry as an apprentice and says he kept his job by making himself indispensable to senior engineers. As a STEM ambassador, he often talks about having the right attitude. He also said that, worryingly, most of the engineers he knew had come into the industry through family and friends, rather that more traditional routes.
Shelley Bowdery, former Head of Maths and Science at St Joseph's College in Reading, echoed Ian's thoughts about getting young people engaged at an early age. She also said businesses should drip-feed information about opportunities in the industry and show how relevant science is to our everyday lives. Shelley added: "This is a golden opportunity for apprenticeships because many students are looking for something that won't leave them with a £60,000 debt.''
Dawn Kennedy moved into teaching physics four years ago after an engineering career which saw her in senior roles at BAE Systems, Royal Mail International and Amazon. She is now Physics Lead, KS3 Learning Leader and STEM+ Co-ordinator at Hazeley Academy in Milton Keynes and says she made the move because she wanted to "put something back." She highlighted the disparity between the numbers of male and female students choosing science options, particularly physics, at A-level.
Samantha Buckell said: "The response to the networking event from the attendees was more than we could have hoped for. A real mix of people made for a knowledge-sharing session which will be extremely relevant when choosing where we go from here. The day definitely met all expectations and I look forward to seeing what actions do come from it. I am extremely grateful to our presenters, who not only brought great knowledge but also made the opportunity to share experience and opinions among those in attendance very easy. It was a great success.''