A new programme to help women into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sectors has been launched in Northern Ireland – where around 500 engineers, technologists and scientists are required annually.
The Engineering Training Council in Northern Ireland (ETCNI) and gender diversity specialists Skills 4 have joined forces to support 20 SMEs and four large companies in developing 50 women in STEM careers, and will also be promoting STEM careers to 1,000 schoolgirls and establishing a network to mentor and support women and girls.
Top companies including NACCO and CMASS are already on board with the scheme.
Skills 4 will also deliver a workshop series in Northern Ireland which has already helped 3,000 women across the UK improve their careers in the STEM sectors.
At the launch of the Women into STEM project at Stormont on Tuesday, pupils from schools including Victoria College and Belfast Royal Academy heard Gillian Winters, chief executive of ETC(NI), quote legendary investor Warren Buffett, who last year said that "for most of history, women, whatever their abilities, have been relegated to the sidelines".
Winters left Bangor High School at 16 with basic GSCEs and signed up for a two-year apprenticeship in electrical and electronic engineering that led to the HNC qualification at Lisburn Training Centre.
She went on to work as an electronics test technician with DDL in Craigavon, then to Nortel at Newtownabbey as a quality engineer, before joining ETC in 2005.
She has since completed a BA (Hons) in Business Management and is currently working towards an MSc in Business Improvement.
"Government, business and education need to come together and acknowledge the shortage of STEM graduates and apprentices," she said.
"These workshops will help women increase their capabilities and confidence and help achieve their career potential.
"We want to work with companies of all sizes but in particular the smaller and medium size businesses."
Ms Winters said that demand for skills is growing rapidly, particularly in technology sectors and advanced manufacturing like aerospace.
Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry said that engineering lies at the heart of everything we do and is included in every product we use.
"We need to get rid of this old notion of people with oily rags working on machines," he said.
"These are very diverse and high tech sectors. We cannot begin to compete in a global marketplace if we are not making the most of our talent."