Help Wanted: Women Engineers

Last year, an article in the business magazine Forbes, highlighted “The Best-Paying Jobs That Women Aren’t In”. The magazine used a 2008 Department of Labor list of “nontraditional” jobs for women, coupled with 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on earnings by occupation to calculate 20 occupations that women might want to reconsider.

Number Two on the list — just behind chief executive positions — were engineering jobs. According to Forbes’ calculations, females make up only about 12 percent of all engineers and engineering technicians, yet it’s one of the best-paying and fastest-growing fields today.

Why so few women engineers? It may be that engineering has often been perceived as an “introverted” field with its heavy focus on math and science and solitary work environment. But, as Forbes reports, colleges and industry have more recently begun promoting engineering as a job that can be both creative and collaborative, career considerations that are more likely to appeal to females.

Both Elaine Craft and Tressa Gardner of the SC ATE Center at Florence Darlington Technical College agree that the field of engineering needs more women. “We don’t have nearly as many women [enrolled in engineering classes] as we’d like,” Tressa told ATETV. And, as Elaine noted, “We need to make [engineering] careers more attractive to women. Females can be successful in ways they never realized.”

We did a little digging and came up with two websites that provide a lot of resources and background about engineering careers, including one that’s specially geared to women in science and technology fields. As both sites describe in plenty of detail, engineering offers women a wide variety of job opportunities — and it’s anything but dull!

The first site, TryEngineering, even has as its tagline, “Discover the creative engineer in you.” Here, you’ll learn, for example, how engineers develop sustainable energy solutions and design the electronic devices that enhance the quality of our everyday lives. You’ll find find job descriptions, educational opportunities, lesson plans and exercises that help illustrate and illuminate specific jobs and the day-to-day experiences of engineers. For example, the section “Explore Engineering,” introduces web users to both practicing engineers and engineering students who describe, in their own words, what it’s like to be in the field of engineering. The site breaks out career paths by majors (for both Engineering and Engineering Technology) covering a total of 25 major specialities including chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.

Try Engineering provides preparation tips and advice on what classes to take, describes the work life of an engineer, and, through its Game section, lets you build a bridge or a lifeboat, learn about simple and compound machines, or choose the pipeline strategy best suited for various sections of the Alaska terrain.

The second site we found, Under the Microscope is geared to women who are in or are considering jobs in science and technology, including engineering. A profile section (Under the Lens), introduces readers to real women, such as Megan Chann, who describes in detail her summer internship as an engineer at the Alcoa-Howment manufacturing plant, where parts are made for jet engines. Under the Microscope also offers a long list of resources (Top Summer STEM Internships for 2011; Top websites to explore; Careers in Science; Scholarship Opportunities; even Smart Phone apps!) One of the lists that looked particularly valuable was the Top 10 Mentoring Resources for Women in Science and Engineering.

Who knows, maybe the next time around, engineering will be in Forbes business magazines’ lists of the Top 10 Best-Paying Jobs that Women ARE In!

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