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‘You can’t be what you can’t see’: guiding girls to become civil engineers

08 November 2023

Guide leader Rachel Attwood explains how the ICE and Girlguiding partnership will help inspire young women to become civil engineers.

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’: guiding girls to become civil engineers
The ICE and Girlguiding civil engineering badge will inspire girls and young women to learn more about this fantastic career opportunity.

One of the biggest challenges with getting young people, and especially girls, into STEM careers is being able to show that you don’t need to fit a certain mould to work in STEM.

Within civil engineering, there’s a vast range of opportunities available and roles can look very different.

That’s why, as a civil engineer and guide leader, I’m thrilled to see the ICE partner with Girlguiding to develop a new civil engineering badge.

This is a fantastic opportunity to inspire girls and young women to learn more about this exciting and rewarding career path.

‘Am I smart enough?’

As a guide leader and STEM ambassador, I’ve had regular opportunities to speak to girls about my role in civil engineering.

I tell them about my career and my route through school and university to get to where I am today.

I’ve had many conversations where young people express an interest in science or maths, and then follow it with ‘but I’m not smart enough for that’.

Or, ‘that’s not for me, I don’t know anyone who does that’.

In my roles as STEM ambassador and guide leader, I’m given opportunities to challenge these perceptions and unpick what a role in civil engineering could look like and how varied it can be.

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’

The phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ summarises many young people’s perceptions of working in STEM.

Being able to be that role model for young people can be inspiring and even life changing for them. It's also rewarding for me and reminds me why I was so excited to pursue a career in engineering in the first place.

When you’re surrounded by your industry every day, it can be easy to forget how ‘cool’ some STEM jobs can seem in young people’s eyes.

If only there’s someone who can show and explain it to them!

The ICE and Girlguiding partnership

The activities prepared by the ICE and Girlguiding give girls a direct insight into the different aspects of civil engineering.

You don’t need to be an expert in the field to deliver them!

Challenge packs give leaders the confidence to run activities in areas they might be unfamiliar with, and show girls that STEM careers can be fun, engaging and match their interests.

The introduction sections written by real engineers show what an engineering career might look like, and the variety that the industry can offer.

Learning about civil engineering roles

There are many jobs which become available to you after a few years of experience. Most of which I was completely unaware of at the time I applied to study civil engineering at university.

I was only aware of site-based roles in construction and office-based roles in design.

While I didn’t really see myself in either of those roles long-term, I figured I would start at a construction company because I wanted to learn how to build infrastructure.

I hoped to find something that I wanted to do long-term later on.

After a couple of years as a site engineer, I understood that there were many more roles available:

  • quality management
  • health, safety and environmental management
  • design management
  • commercial
  • procurement
  • planning
  • site-based project management

The list goes on.

That’s even before you consider the variety of sectors that civil engineering covers: water, rail, highways, structures, energy…

Civil engineers of the future

The civil engineering badge gives girls an opportunity to explore some of these different sectors and roles within civil engineering.

My hope is that this means girls will be able to gain a wider understanding of the range of roles that they could pursue within the industry.

I hope it enables them to see themselves as the civil engineers of the future.

I was lucky

I was fortunate to have a role model encouraging me to pursue a STEM career when I was younger.

My dad used to work as a draughtsman for a mining engineering company.

When I was little and showed interest in maths and science, he nurtured this interest, encouraging me to think about how things worked and why they were made in a certain way.

We spent many hours doing woodwork, assembling Meccano sets and visiting museums.

As I got older, my parents supported me as I focused in on civil engineering and I was able to attend Smallpeice Trust courses when I was in years 11 and 12.

These helped me to really experience what studying or working in an engineering field could be like.

Why STEM ambassadors are so important

My exposure to STEM as a child helped me to see that I could be part of these fields, but I still didn’t have a direct insight into the field.

I didn’t know anyone actually working in the industry at that time.

That’s why the roles of STEM ambassadors, guide leaders, and other volunteering positions working with young people are so important.

They give young people an insight into the wider world, even in areas they don’t have friends or family involved in.

Find out more about being a STEM ambassador

  • Rachel Attwood, design coordinator at Graham Construction