Nina Sparks, Factory General Manager at the McVitie’s bakery in London

Ahead of International Women in Engineering Day, Nina Sparks, Harlesden Factory General Manager at pladis, shares her thoughts on how to inspire more young women into engineering.

On 23 June, International Women in Engineering Day (IWIED) will shine light on area that has been under-represented for women globally for several years. This year’s theme, #TransformtheFuture, celebrates the outstanding achievements of women in engineering and encourages young female talent to explore the exciting career opportunities available in the industry. And even though the industry is arguably more diverse now than it ever has been, there is still a lot of work to be done to boost female uptake of engineering roles. Studies show that The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10%, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%.

For many young women, hearing the word ‘engineering’ automatically brings up images of a job involving heavy machinery. Many think of engineering roles as dirty and manual, but in fact, being creative, a team player and an excellent communicator are some of the key skills used in the job – we’re constantly challenged to find solutions to complex problems, and are crucial to the success of businesses in many sectors. As a profession, we need to work hard to dispel the outdated stereotypes and shine a spotlight on the types of exciting leadership careers available.

Within the walls of our bakeries and innovation centres at pladis, there is a truly outstanding pool of female talent, and we take great pride in highlighting their stories internally amongst our colleagues and particularly when speaking to future talent.

Throughout my own career at the company, I’ve had the chance to work across several areas, including managing production lines, multi-million-pound capital projects and looking after the maintenance of millions of pounds’ worth of bakery equipment. For me, the best part about engineering is being able to see projects from concept and design right through to practical use. For example, I’ve seen state of the art packing equipment come to life, working with the innovation team right through doing the trials and seeing how we can bake and pack the biscuits for millions of biscuit lovers. Now, as Factory General Manager, I manage a team of 600 people who work in our Harlesden Bakery, the largest in Europe.

Now is the time for us to inspire engineers of the future. Today, engineering is more important than ever. Most of the major challenges the world faces now, such as water availability and energy security, require the collective brainpower and leadership skills of engineers. Encouraging women to get into engineering is not just about improving career prospects and making the industry more equal, but also addressing skills shortages during a very important time.

It’s important that we help more role models within the engineering sector communicate, educate and actively encourage young women into the profession. This could take many forms – from informal chats with young talent to speeches at schools and universities. At pladis, we’re committed to attracting a diverse array of talent through mentoring schemes and networking sessions.  As it’s crucial for young people to gain experience early on, we also have a range of apprenticeship and graduate programmes available.

For many reasons, I believe 2019 will be one of great progress for women across all industries in the UK. For us at pladis we’ve seen a step change, we have launched ‘Being Me’ a network which aims to celebrate Inclusive and Diverse workforce a perfect platform for us to use to take action.  I am very proud to be leading the Gender workstream within the manufacturing sites and I hope the engineering industry will embrace this year’s challenge to Transform the Future and together, we can work hard to achieve a more balanced workforce.