Nick Langdon, Card Geotechnics Ltd, Encouraging STEM careers

October 2013:

Card Geotechnics Ltd have had a less structured approach to encouraging STEM, it’s been a mix of a few things. Historically a number of employees have had involvement with WISE in the past and they have around 4/5 trained staff as ambassadors under STEM.

They also worked with a Hampshire based private company, First Partnership, for over ten years on an initiative at schools called “The Build a Bridge Competition” for 10 year olds, where they ensure using female graduates to provide a positive and relevant role model to engage the female students. The build a bridge day, is a ‘fun day’ when they give out prizes and hold talks about careers in civil engineering. The company recognises the importance of role models for civil engineering, female or male.

What makes them very different from their competitors is the percentages of male and female graduates. CGL were the first SME in the construction industry and SET generally to gain their UKRC Achieving award in 2010 and this was followed by the success of the WISE CEO Charter Champion Award of 2012. By simply looking for the best candidates, and not implementing positive discrimination (which would be rejected by all staff) CGL have  currently 40% of their technical staff who are female, although this has recently been higher and have 54% female staff overall. Of the leadership team at CGL the gender split is 50:50.

Nick’s background was in higher education before joining CGL. He worked with WISE, and during this time he noticed a few things about female attitudes towards engineering. When they held lab classes, the girls from single sex schools worked more positively and were much more eager to engage and to lead. However, the girls from coeducational schools were more reticent to lead boys. It’s not only an issue of attitudes but an issue with schools and teachers, who seemingly are not telling, or even worse, are misinforming and discouraging female students from employment in STEM subjects and the construction industry.

Nick sees this is where the government could come in, to balance the message that there are fantastic careers for women in the STEM subjects and certainly the construction industry and the UK needs the next generation to take full advantage of this.

Furthermore, there is a real lack of science teachers committed to encouraging their students into engineering. This is where the education system is falling down. It is so important to have this positive encouragement from teachers, as he noted, at least one of the CGL graduates attributed her career choice to her physics teacher and her passion for applied science.

There is clearly a need within the industry for graduates and a big shortage of students considering this very important career path. This is a major issue in the construction industry as a whole, with a lack of suitably qualified engineers, both male and female. Nick believes that the UK system of schooling is failing to teach the sciences as well as in the past and we have been forced to look at graduates from around the world to fill the skills gap. We simply cannot afford to almost ignore 50% of 18 year olds in the UK for the next generation of engineers. STEM is a way to address this for the future.

For CGL, a workforce that is gender balanced is a stable team from which commercial growth can be more readily developed and one where individuals can be better supported to reach their potential. Working with the likes of “First Partnership” and encouraging STEM ambassadors within the company, put simply, is a long-term investment for the CGL of the 2020’s.

Update (August 2017):

In the last few years, Card Geotechnics Limited has grown significantly whilst retaining the character of the smaller company. Our commitment to STEM and training ambassadors has if anything increased in the intervening period. With a company, approaching 70 staff providing specialist geotechnical and geoenvironmental advice to the construction industry we are proud to have some 24 STEM ambassadors either active or completing assessment training, almost 50% of our technical staff.

We are proud that CGL remains a benchmark SME in terms of gender, continuing to have near 50% of its workforce female in an industry that struggles to see more than 9% female participation overall.   This commitment saw CGL achieve the Investors in People Gold Award in 2016, Sunday Times Outstanding Company accreditation and voted the Ground Engineering Consulting Firm of the Year.

Last year also saw CGL commit to producing the Female Face of Civil Engineering pamphlet as its commitment to National Women in Engineering Day 2016. Designed very much to appeal to the “people like me” format it focussed on appealing to 15 and 16 year olds and used women role models to show careers in construction and the inclusivity of the profession. This was very well received when launched on GCSE results day 2016. The whole project achieved a Highly Commended result from the NCE100 2017 listing of top companies. The commitment of those teaching 12 to 16 year olds to see the engineering profession as one that welcomes men and women and offers interesting and exciting careers remains vital to the economic success of UK plc, post BREXIT and we look increasingly globally at emerging markets.

Nick Langdon, CGL company chairman, continues to support the diversity and inclusivity initiatives of the Royal Academy of Engineering. As a company, CGL participated in 2016/17 as one of the principal organisations and a case study involved in the survey of the attitudes to diversity and inclusion in the engineering profession within the UK.   The results of this important survey are to be published shortly and as Nick has commented “they will undoubtedly present challenges for all of us in whatever sector of engineering we work in”.