The LFIG event with the Fabian Women’s Network at Labour Party Conference on women in the economy highlighted how slow progress has been in getting women into positions of power in businesses in the UK.

Fiona Ferguson Federation: Engineering degree leadership boost for women in industry
Fiona Ferguson: Engineering degree a leadership boost for women in industry

I am pleased to say that in our industry – food and drink manufacturing, things are changing. We now have women heading up several of the leading UK food and drink businesses including Nestlé, Mars Chocolate, Associated British Foods and Unilever. Many other companies also have women in senior roles providing a pipeline for future board members and CEOs. These women are providing a strong leadership across the industry and are committed to the training and development of young people.

As a result of this leadership these businesses and many others such as Mondelēz International, Coca-Cola Enterprises and Warburtons have come together to create the MEng Food Engineering Degree Course at Sheffield Hallam University.

The course has been designed by industry experts to cover not only the technical requirements of mechanical engineering but to offer a wider education of the needs of the food and drink manufacturing sector.

Students on the course will learn about automation, robotics and food processing as well as developing the leadership, finance and business management skills. There are bursaries of £2,500 for students starting in 2014, guaranteed paid work placements, exclusive access to jobs and guest lecturers from industry.

We think this is a great package and we believe the degree will provide the perfect platform for more women to start the climb to the top within our sector. We are determined that as we promote our new course that it appeals to young women as a desirable career choice. We are working with the Women in Science, Engineering and Technology team at Sheffield Hallam to run girls only industry taster days and University open days.

An engineering degree offering the potential to work for some of the biggest brands in the UK (and that might lead to a job working in chocolate!) should stand us in good stead to get some interest from students. However, to do this effectively, and to stand a chance of making an impact in the longer-term to the numbers of female engineers and ultimately, women on company boards in the UK, we need to be able to access young people with careers information.

There are so many manufacturing businesses keen to recruit more female engineers and lots of trade associations like ours with great careers material who are struggling to reach the right people in a cost effective way. With no established routes of communications there will be lots of organisations like ours using valuable resource to reinvent wheels. Surely it makes sense to have a careers service that can help us reach young people in the most effective ways possible?

We need better careers support to ensure all young people have access to unbiased, high quality careers advice to ensure they understand all of the opportunities available to them. After all with engineers being disproportionately represented on company boards surely in the long-term more women engineers will mean more women on boards.

Fiona Ferguson is Public Affairs Manager with the Food and Drinks Federation. She tweets @Fiona_FDF

New Food Engineering Degree Careers Catalyst for Women
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