Female civil engineers – conquering the male dominated industry

We need to ensure that female civil engineers feel supported and confident in the industry from the start of their very first job after graduation.

At the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Gunma College, Japan, there is a proven diversity problem in terms of graduates and their employment status. A survey of hundreds of civil engineering graduates showed that although male graduates almost always stayed in their first job after university, almost 33% of female civil engineers that graduated do not. For the female civil engineers who give up their jobs, the most common reason is so that they can focus on their family life.

The survey that we have conducted concludes that for female civil engineers to be successful, it is necessary for them to have resources that explain how they can achieve a work-life balance. Moreover, the survey also suggested that role models would be a great source to inspire these graduates to stay in the industry.

Recurrent education

It has been suggested that 60% of female graduates are likely to leave their first job, either to change company or to cease working entirely. Unfortunately, however, the engineering skills required during their first job may not be directly applicable to their next working role.

It would be useful if graduates could have a wider view surrounding the related business field and skills required when changing job or re-employment. However, it might be the case that graduates simply lack knowledge surrounding business activity principles. These principles mean that a company must earn money continuously. Based on such considerations, the education theme chosen for the business activity sees students learn to sell a product like an entrepreneur. They will be armed with co-researchers who understand how to make a money and evaluate their plan.

The excavator control system

The programme is divided into three sections: introduction, production planning, and carrying out. The graduates are required to learn the programme four times a month for 180 minutes, over a six month period. As the production item, I have chosen the excavator control system that is under development in my research field of Information and Communication Technology of earthwork.

In this programme, the graduates must decide the price of the system products before bringing them to the customer’s operation. These system products are different from commodity products but include technical services such as making terrain design data services, GNSS base station installation services and IMU sensors installation and their calibrations. After carrying out these services, the system products will work. The graduates must decide on the necessary production component and the cost for production. During the last two months, graduates will install these system products for a user at a real construction site. The education will be completed when the user’s construction work is done. If they can obtain payment for the system products, their production planning would be regarded as successful.

Looking for candidate students to join the programme

The project would need at least four students in order to go ahead. By obtaining the list of graduates, we need to select candidates who graduated from the college between five and 10 years ago, since they might have gained a minimum engineering experience during their professional career. There are 47 candidates with various career histories. Some graduates got a job directly after graduation, and others got a job after obtaining their doctorate degree.

We have currently acquired two out of the four participants that are required. This includes one woman who has changed her job three times over the course of six years, and a woman who has been in the same job since graduating with her doctorate degree eight years ago.

The introductory stage

The first phase of the programme is to begin learning the fundamentals of accounting. Those graduates have already gained some skills in civil engineering since they have already received a civil engineering education for five years in the college. However, it is important to note that they would not have had any lectures surrounding monetary rewards by work or how to be an entrepreneur.

Without understanding the financial aspects of the business, they may not be aware of the necessity to consider cost savings in order to improve business profit and how such considerations can even be reflected even in the product planning and design phases. They need to have an economic sense before designating an action plan. For that reason, I hope that they get a good understanding on their own company’s business status.

The accounting programme is accomplished by gaining the ability to properly interpret a balance sheet. The next step is learning the principle of the GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) measuring system that is now a mandatory precision instrument in the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) earthwork construction field. They will learn measuring methods such as distance computation from satellite to grand surface by means of phase difference method and time of fly method, and how to solve the unknown point co-ordinates by setting up an equation by means of RTK (Real Time Kinematic) measurement data. After acquiring this knowledge, they will then have practical training in order to realise how they can use the system in real life. They will practice how to install a GNSS reference station with a server system, design and compute 3-dimension (3D) road alignment, measure 3D positions using GNSS instruments, and operate excavators (which are installed with the developed control system).

The Planning and Production Release stage

The student team are deciding on product configuration (including services that were practiced during the introduction stage). The next step is to fix the products cost, including any related hardware, software and services in the configuration. The co-researcher would advise the student to adjust their operation and work process as needed.

A profit will be added to the overall product cost in order for them to make profit. Finally, the product price (including the related services) will be indicated to potential end users. Myself and my co-researchers have looked for a potential end user who wants to buy this system in advance. We will leak the approximate price to the user in order to know the purchase intension. In parallel, the team assigns the role of each member in every operation to proceed in the programme.

The operation stage

The team will begin the operation within two weeks of their first meeting with the potential end user. Whilst operating the system at the construction site, someone on the team will be monitoring the user server for GNSS reference stations and the machine guidance system computer via a remote access system every day.

After two months, a meeting with the end user will be conducted, which will involve asking them whether they would pay for the production if they are satisfied. If they would not pay or are dissatisfied, the team will find out the causes behind these problems and work together in order to rectify the situation.

This study is part of the research results of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research (Foundation(C): 18K02970)

Our current status

The plan has been currently hindered by COVID-19, and which has caused a two month delay. As a result, I am still looking for two remaining candidates.

Ritsuo Sakimura
Department of Civil and
Environmental Engineering
National Institute of Technology
Gunma College
+81 27 254 9186

Please note, this article will also appear in the second edition of our new quarterly publication.

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