Working to close skills gap in West; The power of a positive role model

This article first appeared in the Western Morning News.

We can all think of someone who has particularly shaped or influenced our lives in a positive way. For me, it was a team leader during my gap year, my mentor whose enthusiasm and passion influenced my decision to train as a teacher. I still think of him often and am thankful for his input to my career plans. For others it may have been an inspiring teacher or family member who was the catalyst for change.

For many of the young people we work with, STEM Ambassadors provide that positive role model which brings a spark of enthusiasm and motivation to inspire the young people they talk to.

The STEM Ambassador programme is all about inspiration. Volunteers from 17 years old work with young people across a range of activities to enthuse, pass on their knowledge and raise awareness of STEM related careers. STEM Ambassadors bring a fresh perspective and for some of the young people they work with, they really do make a difference.

I was reminded of this recently at an induction for new STEM Ambassadors. One young man told me his story. He shared that after working with a STEM Ambassador whilst at school he was inspired to explore an engineering apprenticeship and subsequently wanting to become an Ambassador himself. He worked on a fantastic STEM project working with Ambassadors in a STEM Club to design an enclosure for crab-eating macaque monkeys at Dartmoor Zoo. He said, “We worked on many real features of engineering: working to a specification, design features and altering designs based upon review, team work, working to a deadline, public speaking and considering materials and feasibility. We even got to do some hands-on engineering in the workshop. The project as a whole was brilliant for giving me a true outlook on the world of engineering. It sparked my interest in the sector. My involvement with STEM Ambassadors definitely helped me to stand out during the application process and was a major talking point during my interview.”

We know nationally that through the STEM Ambassador programme, employers have a key role to play in closing the UK STEM Skills gap. The most recent survey revealed that after engagement with an Ambassador, 9 out of 10 young people increase their understanding of the importance of STEM subjects.

The UK wide skills shortage has been much debated in recent years. The Heart of the South West LEP Productivity Strategy highlights factors including significant gaps between destinations of young people and the needs of the labour market, as well as gaps in young people’s own knowledge on entering the world of work (notably with regards employability and wider transferrable skills, like digital literacy). Engineering UK’s research found that only 36 per cent of eleven to fourteen-year olds knew what steps to take after finishing secondary school to become an engineer.

This is why role models are so important. It’s only through meeting with employers and individuals actually working in a STEM related job that young people really gain an insight into those careers and the skills required to succeed in them.

The most recent CBI/Pearson annual Education & Skills report highlighted that the number of businesses engaged with schools or colleges is down by almost 10% – something we must reverse if the education system is to prepare young people for the modern world and work.

With this in mind the team at CSW Group is committed to facilitating a range of opportunities for young people to meet with employers throughout their time in education, whether that is through the STEM Ambassador programme, work experience, mentoring, enterprise days or careers talks and STEM events such as Big Bang.

The Big Bang Fair South West aims to showcase the strengths of our regions labour market. The fair will present to young people the fantastic range of world class STEM businesses on their doorstep, inspiring and raising aspirations. The fair enables young people to get ‘hands-on’ in zoned spaces that reflect the region’s growth sectors. In addition to interactive workshops and science shows, all of our exhibitors bring activities that engage the students. The fair also provides students with career information about future job opportunities and the skills and qualities needed to enter that profession.

For all enquiries relating to the STEM Ambassador programme or the Big Bang Fair South West, contact the team on 01392 215501 [email protected]

Samantha Ansell is CSW’s Stem manager. This article was written in conjunction with the South West Business Council.

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