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Over the past 6 years we have been working with schools across the UK and Ireland to raise awareness among girls between the ages of 11 and 17 about the great and exciting opportunities that lie behind Science, Engineering and Technology (SET).

In 2010, only 9% of engineering and technology graduates, 5.8% of engineering apprentices and 20% of those studying A-level physics were female. When Kimberley Kirkham and Sophie Lay, two of GE’s graduate engineers, discovered this, the importance of their mission to inspire younger females to enter the industry became clear to them. That’s when GirlsGetSET was born.

“I’m one of the lucky ones”, Kimberly said. “My dad is an engineer. He taught me about engineering and he always made it cool and fun.”

A career in SET could be anything from designing the fastest rollercoaster to finding an alternative energy source. And that’s what we aim to show in the classroom. Through GirlsGetSET GE Volunteers have the chance to show girls the fun side of engineering and provide them with opportunities of career advice and mentoring. We’re extremely proud of the success of GirlsGetSET to date with more than 4,000 girls taking part in the programme since its launch.

“What we’ve found is that working with the girls without boys in the room frees them up to try new things and takes stereotyping out of the equation. In mixed groups, the girls tend to hang back and let the boys take the lead on the technical tasks but that doesn’t happen with GirlsGetSET.” Kimberley Kirkham, one of the GirlsGetSET founders.

More than 950 girls at 30 schools and colleges local to eight GE sites, have been supported by GE volunteers in 2015/16 delivering a combination of projects, events and workshops.  At its full extent, GirlsGetSET is designed to run with the same girls over six years, enabling them to take on more complex projects as they mature and building strong relationships between GE mentors and the students.  It’s a big commitment by GE but we believe it makes all the difference to have sustained regular contact with the same girls, something that rarely happens with corporate volunteering programmes.

When the girls start GirlsGetSET at aged 11-12, they attend taster events such as creating a model aircraft data network to transport messages between systems and learning about energy in its different forms by building eco powered cars.  In year two they take part in several mini projects, ranging from building a spaghetti bridge to designing a mobile phone.  The third year is more focused on the pathways into SET, with university visits and careers evening.  Then there is a more challenging year-long project, which in Aberdeen involves the full engineering design cycle to build a functional subsea Christmas tree, used to control the flow of oil and gas from beneath the sea bed.  The programme doesn’t just focus on developing technical skills but also shares GE learning materials on softer skills such as negotiating with and influencing others.  There is even a personal branding segment, which is always very popular.

For girls and boys who are interested in SET- careers, the opportunities and rewards are significant as 69% of graduate employers say there is a lack of available graduate and 53% are currently recruiting for new engineering and technology staff.

“GirlsGetSET was established to help tackle the UK’s STEM talent pipeline.  Now that the programme is in its seventh year, we are starting to see alumnae applying to GE’s own apprenticeship schemes.  In Cheltenham, one of the girls who took part in GirlsGetSET has already joined GE’s Engineering Degree Apprentice Scheme, and three more are attending an Assessment Centre for this year’s programme.  What’s more, 80% of our Edison Engineering Development programme intake in 2017 is female.” - Dan Nicholls, Senior Manager – Leadership Program Management, GE Aviation, Cheltenham. 

Beyond GirlsGetSET, GE is taking other significant steps to improve gender diversity.  We know that a company that works to change the world, should reflect the world. In that spirit, GE has set goals of having 20,000 women in STEM roles by 2020 and obtaining 50:50 representation for all our technical entry-level programs. GirlsGetSET is helping us achieve this.

From its beginnings at GE Aviation in Cheltenham, GirlsGetSET currently runs in schools local to GE sites in Aberdeen, Amersham, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Cramlington, Montrose, Nailsea and Rugby. The scheme is also great for providing development opportunities for young GE leaders.  They contribute to and help manage a project that can have a huge impact both on GE’s talent pipeline and the girls themselves.