Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Inspiring Young People Into STEM - Why Is It Important?

Cathy Thompson

About Cathy Thompson: 

Profession: Qualified Careers Adviser 

About Cathy: Semi-retired, but still providing regular careers guidance to students at St Peter's Catholic School and involved in career development work at a national level. Was the Careers Lead at St Peter's for 8 years. Won a UK Career Development award in 2013 for our work engaging with employers, and a SATRO STEMX Award in 2017 for our work inspiring students to consider STEM careers. My careers provision was described as 'exceptional' by OFSTED in 2013 and our school maintains (with 2 re-accreditations so far) the Quality in Careers Standard. Have been invited to speak at a number of Conferences. 

Cathy's Linkedin Profile:

Tell us why you think it is important in today's world, to inspire young people into STEM and where applicable, why you and or your organisation gets involved and what you get out of it. 

We all recognise that school students initially, generally know about only a few job sectors (namely medicine, law and media!) and therefore it is our responsibility as careers advisers to ensure that we sign-post students to the wealth of other opportunities available to them in other sectors, and especially STEM-related. If we don't do this, where are these young people going to hear about these, which could significantly impact what subjects they are studying and what qualifications they need? Also, with the impending huge gaps in digital skills and other STEM areas, we need to inform the students about labour market information so that they can make informed decisions about their future choices. 
At St Peter's, we invite into school and visit a total of about 200 employers and organisations a year, so that students can explore what's on offer, and hear first-hand from people who are currently 'doing the job' out in the world of work. Of these employers, a high percentage are working in STEM posts. I think the first thing that intrigues students is the vast range of jobs and sectors which involve/use Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, including many of the 'arts' areas! Our students have found out about some very interesting STEM careers, including a clinical researcher, an architect, a sound engineer and designer, a civil engineer, a mechanical engineer, a medical scanners ops manager, a drilling engineer from BP, a doctor, an occupational therapist, a pilot, a telecoms engineer and a molecular virologist.  We work with SATRO, STEMNet (now STEM Sussex), the University of Surrey, past St Peter’s students (recent and those who have now worked for many years in STEM careers), our school parents, STEM-related apprenticeship providers, Inspiring the Future, Speakers for Schools.   Many of the STEM ambassadors/businesses we work with are women.  In fact, on our STEM networking activity, one year, all our engineers etc. were women!  We need to break stereotypes and encourage more female students to consider some of the great opportunities to work in STEM.

The benefit of these types of activities is well-informed students who can choose relevant courses and routes for their aspirations.  Whilst talking about routes, it is important also that students know that apprenticeships are becoming a truly viable alternative to university for some professional careers, with an increase in higher level, and in some cases, degree apprenticeships becoming more available.  Indeed, many employers are preferring this route, where they can ‘grow their own’ staff.   With degree apprenticeships becoming available in aerospace, architecture, nursing, and actuarial roles, for example, there is a conscious swing in the labour market to recruiting for these types of routes as opposed to recruiting graduates.

In relation to the above question, in your experience, what is getting better or worse and what in your view, are the barriers to sustained success and what do you see as the best way forward? 

Definitely ‘what is getting better’ is the range of STEM jobs on offer for our young people now!    Identifying the skill gaps has triggered an increase in opportunities for our students to ‘try out’ these types of careers on ‘Insight Days’, webinars and other kinds of work shadowing and work experience.  This said, some of these are very competitive and only open to students with relevant qualifications, though the climate is changing somewhat, providing wider access for students who may not possess the qualifications, but do have the personal qualities/employability skills which businesses are looking for.  This is also helping social mobility. 
‘What is getting worse’ is where to find all these opportunities, and to make sure that students don’t miss them!  There are a number of good sites which students can visit initially, to explore the types of opportunities available, like,, studentladder, but often, the onus is on the student to do some in-depth research on employer sites to explore the range of opportunities available to them.
In my opinion, the barriers to sustained success in informing students about STEM-related work is two-fold: ensuring that schools have the resources to forge important links with their local labour market and further afield, and ensuring that businesses are not swamped (as some currently are) with requests from students to do work experience, which often is requested for the term of a whole week or longer.
More opportunities for students to do short-term (a day or two) of work shadowing/work experience, and encouraging SMEs to participate in these is, I believe the way forward.  An important part of this is the activities which SATRO provide for our students, to sample and explore STEM roles and develop the skills required for these jobs.  They provide great experiences and SATRO offer opportunities for individual students, groups or whole year groups!  Our school has participated in these over a number of years now, hosting their sixth form Maths Challenge, and this year, Year 8 Construction Challenge (open to all local schools), booking their Business Game each year to help our Year 10 students to develop important entrepreneurial skills, and attending Teentech.  SATRO have provided mentors and placements for our students over the past years, helping to inspire students and advise them about STEM-related careers.
Working in partnership with our local businesses and organisations, including SATRO is the way forward.  School staff invariably have few hours allocated to them to provide such important experiences, so should welcome any help they may be offered! 
I am optimistic that if we provide these types of opportunities, we will help to address the STEM skills gaps and hopefully inspire our young people with an exciting future in front of them.

- Cathy Thompson

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