Partnership defies NZ's male-heavy engineering industry

Partnership defies NZ's male-heavy engineering industry

Engineering is an industry that's changing our lives, but it's still very much dominated by men.

However a partnership between the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter and an Invercargill high school is aiming to change that.

A group of final-year science students from Southland Girls High School are getting practical work experience at the aluminium smelter near Bluff, carrying out real-world investigative projects.

"Engineering sounds like such a fun time. And coming here it's made me go, 'Yeah I really want to do it'," says Samantha Caughey, a student at Southland Girls.

That's exactly the sort of thing general manager of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters, Gretta Theobald-Stephens, wants to hear.

She says that option was never presented to her at high school.

"It was only after I started science at university that I actually started to consider being an engineer," Ms Theobald-Stephens says.

"I've been very fortunate since to have a lot of good female role models in my business, and I'd like the opportunity to pay that one forward."

There are more than 46,000 professional engineers or technicians in New Zealand - but just 13 percent of those are female.

That's being blamed on stereotyping and workplace culture, along with the long hours.

Now the head of the industry body says opportunities like this can make a world of difference for young women.

"For girls to have experiences like this and get a window into engineering, and do technical, gritty stuff gives them an insight, and encourages them into the profession in a way that nothing else would," said Susan Freeman-Greene, chief executive of the Institute of Professional Engineers.

With more than a third of the students coming through the smelter going on to study engineering, southerners hope this partnership will inspire other companies to do the same.