Imagineering's Joy Smith offers practical advice as to how manufacturing businesses can best establish contact with schools and help share the responsibility of inspiring, educating and supporting the next generation.
It’s no secret that the manufacturing sector, based on STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), is vital to the UK economy – it generates 45% of UK exports.
Despite its importance, the sector faces significant challenges, with an annual anticipated shortfall of some 59,000 of skilled and semi-skilled engineers and technicians.
Bob Shanks, chairman of the independent education charity the Imagineering Foundation commented, “There is growing concern about the numbers of engineers needed each year across many sectors.
“To ensure the UK has a sustainable pool of talent, manufacturers must share the responsibility to inspire, educate and support the next generation – not only for their own organisation, but also those in their supply chain.
“One way is to use whatever time they have available to support schools and pupils of any age; inspiring them to pursue the appropriate career paths for their industries by bringing activities into formal and informal learning contexts to enhance the STEM curriculum – through fun, hands-on personal involvement.”
In support of this, recent guidelines for schools from the Department for Education encourage educators to engage with companies.
The guidelines state, “STEM subject teachers should highlight the relevance of STEM subjects for a wide range of future career paths… Schools should engage fully with local employers, businesses and professional networks to ensure real-world connections with employers lie at the heart of careers strategy.”
This article first appeared in the February issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.
How to engage
However, most companies are not prepared or equipped to just ‘engage’ with schools. The world of schools and education can be hard to understand from the outside. And the ‘outside’ world of companies and manufacturers can be equally complex for teachers.
While engaging with schools may seem a daunting prospect to get off the ground, it is in fact quite straightforward.
From the outset, any organisation wishing to work with schools has some initial issues to clarify – including levels of engagement or commitment; target age groups and identifying target schools.
Some basic guidelines to simplify the process:
- Decide if you are targeting primary or secondary school pupils, and at which age
Level of engagement
- Determine what you are offering – a one-off visit with activity or a series of visits – and the size of group
Identify a school
- Your organisation may have an existing outreach programme or connections with a local school
- Canvass employees – there may be school governors or members of a PTA, or parents who can recommend a school and provide a contact
- Contact your local STEMnet hub, which may be able to identify local schools.
The right contact
- This will vary from school to school.
- The teacher could be in charge of D&T (design and technology), science, physics, all STEM subjects, or even be responsible for liaising with outside organisations.
- It may be worth starting with the Head Teacher. Most schools have this kind of information on their websites.
- Unsolicited emails to a school will be lost in spam or not read at all. A contact name is essential to start discussions.
- Meet with the relevant teacher well in advance to establish that your proposed activity is relevant to the school curriculum; take into account the diversity of young people and cater for a broad range of abilities and levels of understanding.
- When you are approaching schools, make it clear from the outset that your activity is free of charge. Confirm the proposed duration (one hour or two etc) of the session and age group; explain the activity you propose in as much detail as you can; and emphasise how it will enrich pupils’ existing learning.
- Many schools, particularly primary schools, are limited in the hands-on engineering/ technology experiences they can provide, so provision of practical hands-on activities are popular.
- The ‘Imagineering Bench Micrometer’ is a classic example of a make-and-take project that can be delivered within a one-to-two-hour slot.
- It covers measurement, decimals, screw threads, pitch, calibration, precision measurement and the use of simple tools – as well as expanding vocabulary – and maps to National Curriculum requirements.
- It also provides opportunities, if appropriate and time allows, to expand learning and describe real-life applications.
- Pupils are at school for around 30 weeks a year and there are few windows when going into school is possible (delivering curriculum, exams, sports). It is best to avoid the first week of the year or the weeks just before exams.
Statutory compliance requirements
- These include Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearances for employees going into schools, which can be obtained direct or with the STEMnet organisation, where the check is free (The individual becomes a STEM Ambassador and receives some basic guidelines on working with children)
- Public liability insurance and risk assessments will be required for your activity.
- Parental permissions will also be required well in advance if you intend to take still photo or video footage for promotion in any medium. And it’s a goodwill gesture to share your photos with the school.
“Manufacturers’ employees can bring a subject to life and inspire a new generation with their own experiences,” Imagineering’s Bob Shanks said.
“They also have the opportunity to develop, build confidence and widen their own horizons, developing transferable skills and gaining a fresh perspective on their day-to-day work through the eyes of young people.”
The guidelines above will enable organisations to establish contact with schools. Our next article will provide some helpful tips for best practice when actually working with pupils and delivering your activity or project successfully, to provide a positive experience for all.