Area of work: Human Resources
Date/Length of relationship: 2008 – present
During May 2008 an engineering firm won a significant commercial contract, providing the business with an opportunity, for the next 25 years, to build and maintain equipment for a large Government organisation.
In order to achieve the contract, the number of employees, including highly skilled engineers, had to increase from 300 to 1000 over the next 5 years.
Highly skilled engineers were in short supply and the existing engineering team was aging, additionally there was no retirement policy available and the engineers tended to work well beyond the previously applicable default retirement age of 65. The existing workforce consisted of 95% blue collar employees in a highly unionised environment.
The gender split across the organisation was 97% male. The majority of the females in the business were cleaners and the remainder worked in administration roles in the offices.
To address the shortfall in engineers and skills an apprenticeship academy was set up by HR. It was led by 3 skilled engineers, selected from the existing engineering team, who could deliver the apprentice programme and mentor the apprentices. Twenty apprentices were to be recruited for a September 2008 start.
The working environment was extremely challenging from an engineering perspective (working at heights, in confined spaces, etc), involved heavy industrial work and was not a welcoming environment. To give a further indication of the male dominated environment many of the managers offices and canteens displayed “Pirelli calendars” which were explicit and the language used in these environments was derogatory and sexist, but seen as the norm.
In September 2008 circa 300 applications were received for 20 apprentice positions.
Only one applicant was female, despite recruitment publicity and roadshows at local female-only schools.
The female applicant excelled at interview and a position was offered by the recruiting team.
Meetings were subsequently held with Senior Managers who expressed significant concern about hiring a female apprentice – comments such as “distracting the men”, “getting pregnant”, “won’t survive in the workshops” etc. were voiced. In addition, outside of these discussions a meeting was held with a senior engineer who demanded the offer of employment to the female be rescinded.
The female apprentice was recruited, and not only exceeded all expectations, became an exemplar for the business to showcase across that particular engineering industry. She was also the first of many female applicants and success stories across the Company. However, crucially the recruitment of this apprentice led to significant changes happening on the shop floor that didn’t require the Company’s intervention.
Following this breakthrough within the business, the HR Team, led by Danny Hart (now HR Consultant at EML), capitalised on opportunities to promote female roles within engineering. Significantly, it was important for the HR team to lead by example, therefore the next two HR recruits were female, which again was a significant break from tradition; their role was to be the face of HR on the shop-floor. The key to delivering change in this arena was to ensure projects included female representation which created a more balanced outlook and ensured equality and diversity changes remained firmly on the agenda.
If you would like more information on how we can support you overcome habitual change within your business, please contact Daniel Hart on 01942 918948.