For this month’s Education focus, Sussex Business Times introduces Cox Powertrain and explores the rising need for females entering STEM related careers

Businesses should not ignore 50 per cent of the potential recruitment pool and need to attract talent from as broad a population as possible to create a workforce of mixed perspectives. The key to supporting women in engineering is raising awareness of STEM subjects as a career option for girls and it’s down to businesses to do this by sending female engineers into schools who can explain the benefits of STEM careers to them and to the economy. Young people love hearing about a typical day for a female engineer working for a world leader in missiles and missile systems. Establishing strong links with colleges and secondary schools – and even primary schools – where the children are inspired by technology is crucial.

Most studies show that girls have already decided their future career path by the age of 14, therefore action must be taken in primary schools and early years. The Government has begun to make some good progress on the curriculum and advice for teachers to ensure that girls get additional support when taking STEM subjects in school. When girls are making that critical decision, mentoring schemes and proper career advice and guidance is critical. This should not stop at the point of a decision, it should continue well into further/higher education and the workplace.

Any manager or leader should search for a team with a good gender or ethnic mix, as incorporating mixed perspectives challenges the way things are done and drives new ideas. Businesses need to create an environment that lets both genders flourish and see the innovation and creativity necessary to drive a business forward. Having men become more actively involved in the campaign to attract young women into STEM careers, including encouraging more female apprentices, and to foster a level playing field of equal respect and opportunity for all will drive such activity.

It’s clear to see more so now the benefits businesses can acquire from a diverse workforce, so why have we only seen a small increase in the number of female engineers since the 1980s? All the arguments point to the advantages that a more balanced workforce will bring, increasing productivity and making the work environment a better, more equal place. The business world shouldn’t be questioning this, but the unfortunate reality is that with only a small proportion of the STEM workforce being female, we urgently need to have the debates and take action to address the imbalance. More has to be done to create a culture to encourage the next generation of women into STEM subjects.  

A company rises or falls on the talents of its workforce. So, attracting, retaining and motivating the right team is fundamental. For a company like Cox Powertrain, facing an engineering challenge to develop a first-to-market 300hp professional diesel outboard engine, they understand that the need for individuals that are creative and imaginative and who are inspired by engineering is crucial. They have turned their focus to “rewriting the rulebook” on what can be achieved by a diesel engine, which takes an open-mind and relentless determination to succeed where others have failed. Cox Powertrain is based in Shoreham-by-Sea and their facility at Brighton City Airport is a hotbed of activity as the pressure is on to prove their design is going to transform the market.

David Cox, a Formula 1 racing designer, founded cox Powertrain in 2008 and their team now shares the high-energy Formula 1 philosophy; winning motivates them. And, for a business about to launch a new engine, winning means the engine must be robust, reliable and powerful, even in the most unforgiving environments; it must work beautifully, pass stringent tests and appeal to customers worldwide, so it’s fair to say that the pressure is intense.

Cox Powertrain have established their long-term goals to address other engineering challenges and to achieve those, and will need to continue to grow their workforce, which lead on to one of the reasons they work with The Girls’ Network; to look at encouraging the next generation of professional women to see engineering as an attractive career choice. Women make up 51 per cent of the UK’s available workforce but, as is so often reported, they are woefully underrepresented in high tech and engineering businesses. Why does that matter? Cox Powertrain wants to get the best team, and to do that they need to select from the widest pool of talent – male and female.

A mere nine per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce is female, and according to the Institution of Engineering & Technology, the country requires an extra 1.82 million engineers to meet demand over the next seven years. It’s not practical or fair to ignore such a large portion of an available workforce.

Few women want to work in a company that is dominated by one gender and are turned off by professions that have traditionally been portrayed as masculine. But there is nothing to say that engineering is a masculine skill. Cox Powertrain has attracted an international team with experience that ranges from those with decades at some of the world’s leading engineering brands to graduates and apprentices.

The company doesn’t hire any member of staff because they need a diverse workforce, but instead hire the best person for the job and the result is always a multi-gender, international team. For many people, it’s laughable to think that in the past certain jobs were seen as exclusively male. Surgeons, pilots, newsreaders and so on were not seen as jobs that were appropriate for a woman, but it’s reassuring to know that most of us have moved on from such closed-minded thinking. The balance is not yet there in many exciting professions and it’s important that we remove any barriers to entry that dissuade young women from considering a career in certain professions. Sometimes the biggest barrier is a lack of understanding of what the job is like on a day-to-day basis and the rewards that a career in that profession can bring, amongst many other factors…

The Girls’ Network is a mentoring group that works with over 1,000 girls a year to remove barriers that young women face as they start their careers. These include the pressure to conform to ideals; a lack of confidence or self-belief; and a shortage of professional female role models in their networks. The founders of The Girls’ Network believe that girls need a greater access to opportunities, but also the confidence to seize those opportunities and the skills to thrive in them. As well as working as a mentor with The Girls’ Network, Cox Powertrain’s Marketing Manager, Reena Bayley has been putting plans together to bring young female students in to visit Cox Powertrain’s facility, to meet the engineers and find out more about the work they do.

“The UK has a heritage for engineering excellence. We’ve maintained a reputation for quality work in the engineering field and continue to play a major role in world innovation. Cox Powertrain is tackling a seemingly impossible engineering challenge but as a group, we’re inspired by the challenge and to see our innovation turn into a very real working engine,” said Reena. She continued: “Most professionals don’t get the chance to move the needle so significantly and work on a project of such dramatic importance. It’s exciting and stressful in equal measure. The ideas and inspiration of the team are what is going to make it happen. For any young engineer, male or female, it’s an exciting place to work.”