STEMNET: A decade of achievement

Image from STEMNET’s Leading Lights campaign to showcase engineers at work. John Gray, specialist engineer for the BBC is pictured here

As STEMNET celebrates its 10th anniversary Kirsten Bodley, chief executive of the popular skills initiative, pays tribute to the tireless work of its STEM Ambassadors and explains why the practical programme for employer engagement works for busy professionals.

Recent research from the Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that engineering contributes £481 billion to the UK economy but also suggests that the UK must increase its number of STEM graduates by as much as 50% in order to fill engineering job roles with people who can keep British industry globally competitive.

Is STEMNET making a difference?

According to the Science and Technology Facilities Council the efforts of STEMNET and other engagement initiatives to promote STEM careers are having a real impact on the subject career choices being made by young people.

Research from the Council shows:

  • A 36.1% rise in young people taking GCSE science in 2012
  • Increasing popularity of maths as an A level subject choice. 10% of all A Level choices are now for maths.

Prof John Womersley, CEO of the Science and Technology Facilities Council says: “A large part of this is down to the dedication of STEM Ambassadors. Their continued support is essential if we want to effectively communicate the virtues of STEM to today’s young people and to show them what these skills can lead to.”

It is therefore vital to engage with students at key points throughout their education and inspire them with the broad and exciting career opportunities that a career in engineering can hold.

This is what STEMNET (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network) was established to do. We are an independent charitable organisation receiving grant funding from the UK government to inspire young people in STEM subjects. We help ensure that the UK maintains a flow of well-motivated, high-quality individuals into roles that apply STEM knowledge and skills.

One of STEMNET’s major programmes recruits ‘STEM Ambassadors’ – industry representatives who want to actively engage with young people to enthuse them. The programme celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and the variety of activities, events and mentoring schemes through which Ambassadors can communicate the work of engineering professionals is ever increasing.

The STEM Ambassadors programme enables employers to forge connections with local schools to demonstrate how STEM is practiced in the workplace, illuminating applications across a vast range of careers. STEM Ambassadors are volunteers and the majority are professionals working in STEM careers – though they come from a variety of levels within the myriad organisations of all sizes and across sectors. Their immersion in industry means they offer genuine, informed insight which can enhance the national curriculum.

The STEM Ambassador programme has around 25,000 volunteers working with young people, schools and youth organisations across the UK. Their work is invaluable and STEMNET makes sure to recognise and celebrate it. Elizabeth Orchard, an Assistant Civil Engineer at Peter Brett Associates in Reading was recently awarded Most Dedicated STEM Ambassador at the STEMNET Awards.

Elizabeth’s employer, Peter Brett Associates, is commited to engaging with the local community but didn’t have a structured approach or programme in place until Elizabeth developed a STEM Ambassador group there. Over the past two years she has grown the group and now over thirty of the organisation’s employees are involved around the country.

Petrochemicals

INEOS, Grangemouth: David East, Communications Manager: “Delivering and supporting STEMNET activities enables us to build our profile and maintain our reputation in the local community. They also help to develop the skills and knowledge of our employees and contribute to their personal development.”

Geena Chako from ST Robotics, winner of the award for Most Dedicated Employer
Geena Chako from ST Robotics, winner of the award for Most Dedicated Employer

Automation technology

ST Robotics, Cambridge: Geena Chacko, Applications Engineer: “As a small local employer, the STEM Ambassador programme has provided a great platform for ST Robotics to connect with the community and help students in the area realise their potential in STEM careers.”

ST Robotics was awarded Most Dedicated Employer at the 2012 STEMNET Awards for its development of a programme of robotics-based educational activities for local schools, delivered by STEM Ambassadors.

CAD training and consultancy

Studioworx, Milton Keynes: Dan Doleman, Technical Director: “Students can change materials and create fancy shapes using a CAD system, but it is important to ask them ‘why would you want to do that in the real world? How would a product be enhanced by you doing so?’

“Visiting schools and finding out the level of competency of young people also keeps you in touch as a business with the quality of people you should employ.”

Simon Collins, EAME Future Talent Development Manager, Caterpillar
Simon Collins, EAME Future Talent Development Manager, Caterpillar

Construction machinery

Caterpillar UK, Peterborough: Simon Collins, EAME Future Talent Development Manager: “Caterpillar has over 200 STEM Ambassadors in the UK, a number that continues to grow as more of our employees come to appreciate the tremendous opportunity this scheme provides to share their experiences with young people and encourage them to pursue a similar career path. “We use the Ambassador programme as a personal development opportunity for our staff as well as a highly effective way of engaging with young people. The flexibility that the programme offers in terms of the levels of commitment required from Ambassadors means that their supervisors are more willing and able to facilitate participation.”

STEM Ambassadors are asked to take part in a minimum of one activity per year, allowing for flexibility in how much time an individual or employer can commit. Many, such as Elizabeth, support a lot more than this. She is now collaborating with Oxford and Cherwell Valley College and Reading College to design the curriculum for a new University Technical College for 14- 19 year olds, due to open in Reading in September 2013. Peter Brett Associates, is one of four industry partners for the new UTC. Others are Microsoft, Cisco and Network Rail.

The success of the STEM Ambassador programme relies on the skills, passion and expertise of individual volunteers. But the support of employers is also critical. We need them to approve the time their staff spend on the programme. Around 3,000 employers, large and small, support engagement with the STEM Ambassadors programme and many more support in other ways.

But although the STEM Ambassador programme is strongly endorsed, the challenge of communicating STEM career opportunities clearly and progressively – so that perceptions keep pace with changes in technology, markets and business models – is ongoing. We always need more Ambassadors to take ownership of industry skills gaps and recruitment challenges.

If you would like more information about how STEMNET can help your business engage with the community, visit: www.stemnet.org.uk