ICE Civils Comeback scheme – Helping you back into work

Nathan BakerGuest post by Nathan Baker, Director of Engineering Knowledge, Institution of Civil Engineers

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) wants to help professionals, particularly women who have taken a career break, return to work and come back to civil engineering.

Barriers to work

We recognise that many people struggle to find the right opportunities to return to engineering after having children, taking a career break to travel or simply having tried a role in something else.  

If this sounds familiar and you, or someone you know are worried your skills have depreciated or that the sector you once knew has moved on, ICE want to help.

The Civils Comeback scheme aims to help rebuild your confidence, networks, skills and knowledge base. We want to bring professionals back to civil engineering, and have put together a programme of resources and opportunities to help.

Why come back to civil engineering?

There has never been a better time to come back to civil engineering.  It is projected that we will need an extra 1.82 million people with engineering skills up to 2022.  

Simply put, we need more people with engineering skills in the short, medium and long term.  There are opportunities available, and we want to point you in the right direction.

Impact of the skills shortage

The STEM skills shortage in the UK is complicating the ability of firms to meet the rising demand in construction. It is widely accepted that we face an impending skills crisis, with significant consequences, including:  

  • Industry competence to deliver quality products or services may be lost
  • Costs and inflationary pressures may escalate, placing further stress on budgets and large-scale planning
  • Major projects may be postponed or cancelled as no longer financially viable, resulting in the loss of UK plc competitive advantage in the global marketplace

Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills (2013) identified that engineering skills take a long time to develop, particularly when you take account of the time needed to develop the academic foundations of engineering by studying maths and science in school.

In the short term, we can improve supply by investing in retaining those with engineering skills and encouraging them to return if they have left the profession or taken a career break. Building on this recommendation, we want to get more people back into work as a civil engineer.  

More importantly however, we cannot deny that there is a historic gender imbalance in the engineering profession. This is a reputation we want and need to shed and ICE is committed to taking positive steps to resolve this.

We need a strong and diverse workforce to build the essential infrastructure society depends on.  

What is ICE offering?

ICE has created an online resource offering which includes:

  • Information and access to work-placements with sponsoring organisations
  • Support through the ICE Benevolent Fund’s coaching scheme to provide the tools needed to get come back  to engineering
  • Use of our online career-planning resources to help identify the right area(s) of civil engineering for you
  • Access to knowledge resources and networking events
  • Access to ICE’s informal mentoring service with over a hundred experienced civil engineers offering support and guidance

How to find out more

To find out more, please visit Or for an informal chat, contact Adam Kirkup on 020 7665 2262 or

ALD awarded Digital Science Catalyst Grant

We are incredibly excited and honoured to announce that Ada Lovelace Day has been awarded Digital Science’s prestigious Catalyst Grant, alongside tech company Penelope. ALD and Penelope will share the $25,000 grant equally.

We will be using the Catalyst Grant to expand the resources section of our website to provide a global database of information that women can use to develop their STEM careers. Including data on organisations for women in STEM, grants, scholarships, fellowships, research and media coverage, it will help women at all stages of their career to find the support, funding and inspiration they need, and help businesses understand more clearly the challenges faced by women STEM.

The Catalyst Grant Program, an international initiative by Digital Science to support the innovation of new software tools and technologies for scientific research, has awarded more than $100,000 in grants to date. Awards of up to $25,000 are intended to provide initial support to take ideas from concept to prototype and are considered twice per year, once in December and once in July.

Steve Scott, Director of Research Tools at Digital Science, said, “This year’s decision was our toughest yet, with a field of over 30 entries to consider. However, both Penelope and ALD stood out and in the end we arrived at a unanimous vote. We’re proud to have an opportunity to help grow both businesses.”

Work on the new resources database will begin soon, and we hope to launch the database in early 2016.

You can read more from Digital Science on their blog and in their press release.

Introducing our latest sponsor: UCL Engineering

UCL Engineering logoI’m excited to announce our latests sponsor, UCL Engineering, who are our Ada Lovelace Day Live! Platinum sponsors. We are delighted to welcome UCL Engineering on board and would like to thank them for their support of women in STEM.

One of UCL’s eleven faculties, UCL Engineering consists of 11 departments with staff who undertake research and training across a great range of disciplines. Our scientists and engineers take discoveries from life sciences, pure maths, psychology and many other areas, mix them together, add their own innovations and produce solutions the world needs.

You can follow UCL Engineering on Twitter, @UCLEngineering.

Welcoming Slack as an ALD sponsor

slack_logo_screen_color_rgb_300We’re very happy to announce our newest sponsor, Slack, who are providing 75 Ada Lovelace Day Live scholarships for people who would not otherwise be able to attend. We will be opening applications for those tickets in a month or two, and will let you know when that process begins.

If you haven’t heard of Slack, I’ll let them explain their service:

Slack is a messaging app for teams. It brings together your work communications into one place, makes them instantly searchable, and available on any device. It integrates with dozens of popular services such as Twitter, Dropbox, Trello, Asana, Google Docs, JIRA, MailChimp, Stripe, Zendesk and others to help consolidate and make sense of the ever-growing flows of data that confront modern teams. Since launching in February 2014, Slack now has more than 500,000 daily active users across more than 60,000 teams. Based in San Francisco, with an office in Vancouver, Slack has raised $162 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), Google Ventures, Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and The Social + Capital Partnership.

You can follow Slack on Twitter, at @slackhq, or find out more about them from their website.

Has the leaky pipeline been fixed?

Guest post by Sarah Hearne

The ‘leaky pipeline’ is a familiar metaphor to those interested in discussions of women in STEM. The pipeline – the process of going from school to undergraduate level and on into academia until reaching professorship – is seen to leak people, particularly women and minorities, at each successive rung of the academic ladder. Despite its ubiquity, there are growing concerns that the leaky pipeline metaphor is harmful and inaccurate.

A recent paper by David Miller and Jonathan Wai suggests that the pipeline is no longer leaking. The paper examined the percentage of students who go from undergraduate level to PhD level using retrospective analyses of data from US citizens. The data itself seems sound, as do the analyses, but I am concerned about the conclusions drawn.  The authors found that while women, in general, used to be awarded PhDs at a lower rate than their male undergraduate counterparts, this is no longer the case: the sexes have converged. This means that male and female undergraduates are equally likely to continue their academic studies. Wonderful news! The pipeline has been fixed!

Well, not so fast. The paper has examined a very particular point in the academic career: the transition from the undergraduate level where a student is really trying to gauge their level of interest in a subject while putting off the whole ‘find a job’ thing for a few years, to the postgraduate level where they feel they may have some real interest and aptitude for their chosen field and would like to pursue it further (and maybe put off that whole ‘find a job’ thing for a few more years!). While obviously it is great to know that women are no longer systematically biased against when it comes to being accepted for PhDs, that step is only one on the long route to becoming a fully fledged academic. And, as the authors point out:

“…the pipeline metaphor may be an apt description of academic transitions after the Ph.D. Academic pathways are considerably more rigid after the Ph.D. degree than before the bachelor’s degree.” [p8]

The paper is cautious and focused in its conclusions, which is as scientific research should be. However, from an online article written by one of the co-authors, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the leaky pipeline metaphor was now dead:

“…new research of which I am the coauthor shows this pervasive leaky pipeline metaphor is wrong for nearly all postsecondary pathways in science and engineering.”

The paper, however, does not say that, and the data doesn’t support such an assertion. It’s bad enough when press officers overhype research due a lack of understanding of the work, but to see an actual author misrepresent their research is extremely disappointing.

So, as much as we might wish it to be true, this paper doesn’t support the idea that the leaky pipeline has been completely sealed. But what about its use as a metaphor? Well, there are two sides to any metaphor: those of accuracy and utility. It appears that despite some areas where cautious optimism may be applied, as shown above, the metaphor is still largely accurate. But is it useful?

The main problem with the metaphor is that it implies that the leak needs to be fixed. Yet the pipeline must leak. In the UK alone there were 98,000 students accepted onto STEM course in 2013. There aren’t enough academic positions for all those students to be employed, and the country would be significantly worse off if all those students decided to work in academia rather than take their skills to other employment sectors where they would make a beneficial contribution.

Specifically in the context of women in STEM, there are concerns that the leaky pipeline metaphor is harming the discussion. That by saying that every woman who leaves academic STEM is a loss, a great deal of internalised pressure is placed on women to pursue careers they are unhappy with and it creates a feeling a failure when they decide to follow a different career path. As Andrew Penner points out, by referring to the leaky pipeline:

“we risk trivializing the contributions of women and men who choose to pursue other endeavors when we define success as becoming a STEM professor at a research university“.

Matthew Cannady and colleagues recently examined the way in which the ‘leaky pipeline’ metaphor fails. They explain that:

“. . . a metaphor positing that those who “leak out,” presumably into a drain, are lost to STEM fails to recognize that there are careers that may not require a STEM bachelor’s degree but do require STEM knowledge and skills and contribute to the public good. The fact that the pipeline metaphor does little to illuminate the paths of mathematics or science educators, or scientifically literate citizens, further challenges its usefulness.” [pp446]

The metaphor, while sadly accurate, appears to be more of a hindrance than a help when trying to discuss and improve women’s representation in academic science. It may be time to find a new metaphor, one that properly appreciates that there are many career choices that allow women, and men, to make use of their scientific training. However, it remains a fact that women are still being excluded from the higher echelons of academia, and whilst that remains true we will all lose out.