October 1, 2019
My favourite day so far has been beating the lads at table football!” says Charlotte Palmer, the first female to enrol on Newcastle College’s newly-launched Offshore Renewables and Subsea Engineering Diploma, developed and delivered in partnership with Port Training Services.
Aged just 16, Charlotte has no background in engineering or the energy sector, apart from living close to one of the UK’s leading offshore energy support bases at Port of Blyth, and so her application for an engineering course was a pleasant surprise to her parents.
“My parents didn’t really have a lot to do with my decision,” she says.
“They encouraged me to make up my own mind and I think they were a bit surprised when I chose engineering.
“Living in Blyth, they know how big the energy industry is and they know it’s only going to grow. It’s huge for the North East, so my dad agreed that this is a great opportunity for me.”
The energy sector presents fantastic opportunities for anyone currently deciding their future career path. It is the region’s fastest-growing industry and an area of growth highlighted by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, with an increase of skilled roles promised over the next decade.
Newcastle College, foreseeing this growth when it developed its Energy Academy in 2012, has positioned itself as the region’s leading training provider for the industry with this latest course designed alongside port and marine training experts Port Training Services.
It has established award-winning partnerships with employers in the sector, to offer apprenticeships and education up to foundation degree level, which help train the next generation of offshore and subsea engineers.
Although Charlotte is the only girl on her course, there are many others on engineering courses across Newcastle College, spread across energy, rail and civil engineering, general engineering, automotive and aviation.
However, they remain heavily male-dominated, even after a number of years of national campaigning to encourage more women into STEM.
If Charlotte’s choice is still seen as breaking the mould, is the campaign having any impact?
Charlotte says that while she took notice, the message doesn’t seem to be reaching everyone.
“I’ve seen the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign and I’ve noticed there has been a lot of people saying that girls can do whatever they want now. I suppose that made me think more about options that I may not have before.
“I told my friends I was enrolling on this course and a lot of them still said that it’s just for boys or that they didn’t want to be the only girl, but the way I see it is, I’m the only girl because that’s what other girls have been afraid of.
“I’ve visited the college’s Energy Academy and met girls on other energy and engineering courses, who have all had similar experiences to me. Most girls do still think that way and I’m not sure how to change that.”
It is a similar story in industries such as gaming, as recent Newcastle College University Centre graduate Lucy Smith found when she enrolled as the only female on a Games Technologies degree.
“I would have loved to have another girl on the course with me,” she says.
“I’ve always had support from men, but I’ve seen statistics which say that less than 20 per cent of gaming employees are female, yet 50 per cent of gamers are female, so it’s easy to see that there is an issue somewhere.”
With support from Newcastle College, Lucy took the initiative to create her own community of women in gaming, seeking out her own connections and went on to host the North East’s first Girls Make Games events, held at Newcastle College.
Girls Make Games is a programme of workshops, designed to inspire the next generation of female games designers, creators and engineers. It was launched in 2014 in the USA and helps girls aged eight to 17 learn the basics of games development, building their very own video game from scratch.
Lucy’s passion for helping more girls break the mould saw her nominated as one of the UK’s Top 100 Women in Games earlier this year, swiftly followed by a nomination for Young Achiever of the Year at the English Women’s Awards.
Since graduating in July, she has now gone on to land her dream job as a games designer for Sumo Digital.
“To come from my background to this position in less than two years is unbelievable,” she says. “I’ve worked so hard to change my life and now I want to help others do the same,” she says.
Assistant principal of Newcastle College, Lisa Hamilton-Murray, feels that having real, successful female role models and providing the right support are both key to showing young girls they have more career choices than ever.
“I think we are heading in the right direction, but it’s going to take time,” she says.
“Making sure that students like Charlotte and Lucy have a brilliant experience on their course and helping them to succeed is one of the most important things we can do because their success will be what inspires more girls to follow those paths.”
In her role, Lisa backs a number of initiatives across Newcastle College, which aim to support female students.
Just a year ago, she helped the College’s Pastoral Support Team and its University and College Union branch to launch its campaign to tackle period poverty, providing free sanitary protection to all students unable to afford it, enabling them to attend all of their classes and reach their potential.
This campaign has since gone on to be taken up by schools, colleges and universities across the country.
Lisa also champions the college’s partnership with the Girls Network, a national mentoring scheme aimed at helping female students overcome barriers to success – including confidence, lack of opportunities and a lack of role models.
Its mission is to ‘inspire and empower girls by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role models.’
She continues: “Our job is to provide our students with a support system which will help their wellbeing and experience while they’re with us, but also help them to cope with the future demands of their career.
“Role models are extremely important, whether they are parents, teachers, our own graduates like Lucy, or someone already successful in the role our students are training for.”
Just as Lucy connected with women in the gaming industry to create a community of role models and inspire young girls, Charlotte has now started her own journey as a young woman in engineering.
She says: “I recently met a graduate who now works for E.ON and she was really positive and encouraging about the opportunities available to women in engineering. It was great to hear.
“It’s still so new to me, I’ve only been on the course a few weeks, so it’s difficult to think about what my future might look like, but I definitely think it will be in engineering. I can’t wait to get started.”