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Inspiring future engineers with WES London Cluster

There’s a real depth and breadth of engineering specialisms at FCDO Services. We’ve got Building Services Engineers. Mechanical Engineers. Structural Engineers. We’ve got engineering specialists trained in everything from counter-eavesdropping equipment to earthquake protection. The problem is, you won’t always find our kind of engineering taught in schools or discussed by careers advisors.

Some of our work is highly specialised – like the Blast Engineers who help us secure government buildings against impact and explosions. Other specialisms we need are more common – Structural Engineers, for instance – but the particular challenges we work on here are niche. For example, a Structural Engineer might work with us to reinforce the floors of an 18th Century embassy, so that it can bear the weight of a new secure server room, without spoiling historic architecture. It’s not the kind of work you might know about at 16 or 18, when you’re starting to plan your career. As one of our Senior Operating Managers puts it: “I think it’s important to support events like this to broaden students’ outlooks. At FCDO Services we have a unique set of roles; the majority of which I didn’t even know about until I joined the organisation.”

But as well as aiming to provide better information for future engineers, we’re also aiming to open up Engineering to people from every background. At the moment, across the sector, there’s a real need for greater diversity. As Engineering UK point out in their current three-year strategy, women make up 51% of the UK’s working population – but only 12% of the engineering workforce. In that report, we see the same pattern of underrepresentation across the board: colleagues of ethnic minorities make up just 9% of Engineering, only 9% of Engineering students declare a disability, and only 24% of the sector’s workforce come from low socio-economic backgrounds. This lack of diversity needs to change. 

So we’ve got two challenges on our hands: one, to educate more students about the wide range of specialisms within Engineering, and two, to bring greater diversity to all those specialisms. There are lots of outreach initiatives and events we get involved in, but today we wanted to talk about a recent example that helps tackle both challenges at once: our work shadowing partnership with the Women’s Engineering Society London Cluster, now in its second year.

Organised by the London branch of the society, the opportunity is for women aged 16+ who’d like to learn more about engineering careers. Through virtual shadowing, the participants engage with a wide range of engineering employers – including FCDO Services – to get a more accurate picture of the opportunities they could find in the sector.

Our virtual shadowing day began with an introduction from our Director of Operations, giving the students context of the wider picture our engineers contribute to. We showed them that together, we’re a team that helps protect people and government buildings all over the world; providing our engineers, whatever their specialism, with a real sense of purpose in what they do.

Then came time for a little practical work, helping the students understand a little more of the reality of our day-to-day work. Together with our Head of Commercial Management, their task was to design a security system for our virtual embassy. According to our colleagues involved, it was an area where the participants particularly thrived: “The students grasped the concept of the problem set for them, and gave an answer that showed real thought and consideration.”

Next up came a CV and interview techniques workshop, helping our female participants set themselves up for success in applying to engineering opportunities – whether at FCDO Services or in wider industry. In a competitive job market, the students were keen to take as much from the session as they could. According to one of them, this was one of the most valuable parts of the day: “In a competitive career field, it’s been helpful for making my CV stand out. If I apply for a job in Engineering, this will have been incredibly beneficial.”

Then finally, we rounded off the day with a talk from UK NACE; our team of experts on counter-eavesdropping, who provide government customers with threat intelligence and response. They’re one of many teams within our organisation whose work is stronger when we have greater diversity and a more equal gender balance. Our UK NACE colleague was keen to make sure the students knew that too:

“Our organisation protects His Majesty’s Government from an astonishingly diverse set of security threats. In order to respond, we need the most diverse team possible, bringing new ideas and different thinking to bear on problems that have real impact for national security.” 

So, that’s a summary of the day itself – but what makes an opportunity like this one so valuable? Well, as well as helping us to illuminate different engineering paths, it also helps us dispel myths too. Particularly for students still in education, the word ‘engineering’ often conjures up images of hammers and spanners. The reality is, engineering isn’t always like that: lots of our team are far more likely to be found drawing up blueprints in an office than climbing ladders on a building site. In the words of one of our Senior Operating Managers, “I think engineering can be misunderstood but days like this can truly highlight the breadth of opportunity offered by engineering careers.”

The work shadowing opportunity also helps us talk directly to students about what we look for; what kind of people thrive as engineers. Because, in fact, lots of women have what it takes to succeed in engineering – but they rule themselves out. It’s about highlighting that, if you’re a curious person with a drive to make things better, you can have any gender identity and build a brilliant career here. As one of our Senior Managers, who attended the event, says:

“If you have an enquiring mind; if you love solving problems; if you walk past buildings and wonder how they were constructed; or if you look at a piece of machinery or electronics and wonder how it’s put together; if you want to find sustainable solutions to replace out-dated carbon-heavy processes – then why not try engineering? You might just find that it’s a career made for you.”

If you’d like to learn more about our broad range of opportunities for yourself, our Engineering careers page is a great place to start – or you could check out our Engineers in action in the Virtual Embassy. Alternatively, if you’d like to know more about the outreach work we do and our commitment to diversity, then why not have a look at our Diversity & Inclusion page? And of course, keep checking our upcoming vacancies to find your job bigger with FCDO Services.