Women breaking down barriers in marine engineering

Joseph Bulmer

A Devon college at the forefront of helping women break into marine engineering celebrated International Women’s Day with ever-increasing numbers of female participants in a fascinating industry.

South Devon College wants to help change the perception of the marine industry by encouraging more women to work in the sector.

Currently, women make up 14.5% of all engineers but there has been an increase in the last few years. It is an increase that Harriette Wade-West, marine lecturer at South Devon College, has seen reflected in the student population at the Marine Academy.

"We are seeing increasing numbers of female students on marine courses, in engineering as well as boat-building and other disciplines. This is really encouraging to see, and it's great to be at the forefront of this shift,” she said.

“Pursuing a career in the maritime sector is a great choice for women, as there are so many options and opportunities for a challenging career, with the chance to work anywhere in the world.”

Working alongside Princess Yachts, one of the world’s leading boat builders, South Devon College offers a marine engineering apprenticeship and the gender split is changing.

“We have reached a 25/75 female to male split and getting a 50/50 split is looking more likely and it will revolutionise the marine industry,” explained Alison Thompson, Head of Learning and Development at Princess Yachts.

20 year-old Charlotte Hewitson from Plymouth studied engineering at college but only recently decided to specialise in marine engineering. Now she’s on an apprenticeship at Princess Yachts, which involves one day of study at South Devon College.

“My sector inspires me because there are so many opportunities and experiences across the whole sector not just in my job currently but as a whole,” said Charlotte. “I also like how the jobs vary and there’s a broad range of jobs including mechanical and electrical.

“I hope to finish my apprenticeship with Princess yachts and expand my knowledge, skills and experience.”

Also on the marine engineering apprenticeship programme at Princess Yachts is 19 year-old Freya Wood. She enjoys the practical side of the work and the fact that it’s then backed up by her study at college.

“I like engineering because you can see the work you’ve put in, even when it’s little jobs, it’s nice to see it and just think ‘I did that’ and have a physical reminder of the work you do,” said Freya.

Freya, who has been interested in engineering since she was 13 years-old after attending a career event, hopes to travel the world with her skills and live in different countries.

Both Charlotte and Freya study at South Devon College’s specialist Marine Academy which is relocating next month to Noss on Dart.

In the planning for 10 years, South Devon Marine Academy aims to close the skills gap within the maritime sector and offer students a vibrant and flexible education with strong industry relationships.

“The maritime sector is forecast to grow by 15% between 2019 and 2023,” explained Harriette Wade-West.

The academy is perfectly placed for supporting academic study with practical delivery on the water and offers students of all ages top rate facilities including a marine engineering workshop, research and design facility and a bridge simulator.

For those wishing to pursue higher level qualifications, the Marine Academy also offers two foundation degrees, Marine Technologies and Maritime Leadership and Vessel Management, which is currently in an exciting redevelopment phase.

Next month, on April 1st, in celebration of International Women into Marine Day 2022, an event is being held at South Devon College’s Hi Tech & Digital Centre. It’s aimed at young women who are interested in a career within the marine sector. Starting at 9.45 there’s a variety of activities planned including a talk from Holly Manvell of Sea Cleaners, build a boat activity and a virtual regatta VR experience.

For more information go to www.southdevon.ac.uk