Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Lisa Ingram Head of Business Improvement at Amey, who started and developed the Challenge Cup after seeing the lack of aspiration, opportunities and female role models during a visit to her daughter’s school…

Tell me about the history of the Amey Challenge Cup.

The Amey Challenge Cup came to life five years ago as a careers involvement day with just a single school in Birmingham. The Cup has developed year on year, with girls now competing nationwide. In its first year, 25 girls spent the day with us, with female engineering professionals coming in and speaking to them to give the girls a grasp of the work Amey does. The background of these professionals varied from traditional engineers to environmental and geotechnical engineers. During the day we discussed how to get into engineering and carried out activities to demonstrate different parts of engineering.

In our second year, we expanded to four schools across Birmingham. We had the same number of girls, and again spent the whole day with them, presenting real life engineering challenges, things like risk assessment, budget control and client interaction.

Last year we decided to reach beyond four schools into to three different areas: Birmingham, Staffordshire, and Gloucestershire. We interacted with nine schools in total, which meant we had regional heats and a national final.

This year the exponential growth has continued as we’ve spread across the country, and we held ten separate events, with the total number of participants reaching 250 girls from 20 schools.

Where do you plan to go next? 

My personal goal is to bring the Amey Challenge Cup up to a level where it’s on par with the Rolls Royce and Land rover engineering challenges. Once we had established ourselves in Birmingham, we decided we wanted to go national, which we pulled off this year. Managing to reach 20 different schools was great and we’re currently gathering impact and viability assessments from schools as far apart as London and Glasgow.

The Cup is currently available for girls in year 8, 9, and 10. Is there a plan to incorporate younger or older students? 

We came up with the challenge to mark International Women in Engineering Day, which falls during exam season, which can prove problematic for older students. In terms of younger age groups, the current activity is challenging and is best suited to year 8, 9 and 10. We have had year sevens try it out, but the feedback we’ve gotten suggests the activities need to be tailored to be more straight forward. However, we have over 100 volunteers from Amey helping with the Cup who are happy to talk to any students about engineering, whether they are taking part or not.

There is also a different set of challenges presented at the primary school level in terms of ratios and what the students can do. Engagement with schools can be hard.

Why do you think that is?

There is an element of cost involved that can be off putting on the logistics side. In Birmingham we have established relationships with these schools, so they can lift out their risk assessment activities from the previous year which can encourage other similar sized schools to get involved.

The students from the first year are now finishing their A-Levels so it would be interesting to see if there is any uptake in STEM degrees. Schools can be wary about sharing that data, so we have to build a personal relationship with them. This year I went to five events and once they saw how much the girls enjoyed the day, they are very keen to come again the year after, so it is doable.

Girls represent half of students studying STEM at GCSE level but there is a huge drop off at undergraduate level which continues into actual employment in STEM industries. Why do you think that is and what is the remedy?

There is still an element of ‘if you can’t see, you can’t be’. A lot of the girls who attend the workshops will not have seen women working in any of these roles and there is still a massive misconception of engineering. Often girls only learn about mechanical engineering and manufacturing.

A good friend of mine graduated with a Doctorate in Engineering recently, I watched the ceremony and it was overwhelmingly boys and there is a huge part of this perception.

The first premise that we came up with was to show that all engineers are not the same. One girl I spoke to viewed design as this big amorphous blob and when we showed her the different types of design there are, it helped her to visualise what direction a career in that field could take her.

We want to expand the view of engineering, and show there’s more to it than just masculine, construction-based discipline. For instance, our environmental team helped students to see there is a huge role in ecology in engineering.

It’s about showing girls what different roles are out there. Another initiative that is aiming to tackle this problem is Amey’s partnership with Girlguiding. We created an engineering badge, with the aim of inspiring young girls to consider STEM subjects and show what they can do with them further down the line.

What are some of the skills that the participants get to learn?

Participants learn a huge number of skills during the challenge, including project management, design, construction, budgeting, the role of engineers, the role of maths and finance and the role of people who want to go out on the ground and watch something being built.

They also get to be hands on with project scope and the assimilation of technical requirements, understanding drawings and construction and scale, timescales and where you can take tasks and the same time, project planning and concurrent tasks, risk analysis, client budgets.