The STEM challenge: Resources and initiatives

Written by: Dr Gordon Mizner | Published:
STEM engagement: Prince Charles meets some of the EDT’s Industrial Cadets at the Jaguar LandRover Halewood plant

As he retires after 12 years at the helm of the Engineering Development Trust, Dr Gordon Mizner looks at the range of the charity’s STEM engagement programmes

A great deal has changed since 2005 when I became chief executive of the Engineering Development Trust (EDT). One thing that has not changed, however, is the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers who engage with EDT, who ensure their students get the opportunity to see the role that their STEM subjects play in the real world. These teachers recognise that giving young people exposure to tasters, projects and placements with employers in the STEM industries gives them important inspiration, motivation and information for their future career pathways.

EDT in 2005

Back in 2005, EDT was involved in three main programmes.

  • Year in Industry: Provides young people with a paid year in a STEM industry, typically in a gap year before they go on to study a STEM subject at university.
  • The Engineering Education Scheme (EES): A six-month extra-curricular project for lower sixth students with a local engineering employer. EES projects are real commercial projects enabling the students, who might be considering an engineering degree, to have a first-hand perspective.
  • Headstart: A programme of summer residential courses at universities, to give 17-year-olds a flavour of a STEM course at university before completing their UCAS forms.

What are teachers’ key roles?

All the 2005 programmes are still going strong and have varying roles for teachers to play. I suggest that there are two key roles for teachers in these programmes, and in the new programmes developed since 2005, which enable young people to get the most from STEM engagement.

For the Year in Industry the role of the teacher is one of introduction and information. A teacher with students who might be interested or suited to go on to STEM degrees can simply make the potentially life-changing suggestion: “Have you ever thought of taking a paid working gap year in industry so you can see what the commercial world is like and check the particular discipline you have chosen to study?”

For the EES, the role of a teacher expands to facilitation and mentoring. It is here that I am in awe of the teachers who engage with STEM programmes. Across the country there are hundreds of teachers who find the time each year to support their students to take on real projects within STEM industries and then see the ways in which their curriculum STEM studies have the power to change people’s lives through STEM innovation in companies and research organisations.

These teachers’ interventions may seem small – organising speakers, arranging after-school sessions, minibus trips to companies, helping a group think through ideas – but without teachers making these small but powerful interventions, nothing would be able to be done to help guide these students into the best career paths.

At the same time, many teachers enjoy the experience and tell us that they learn a lot which can be applied in the classroom more widely.

In Headstart, the two roles are combined, introducing the students to the availability of summer residential courses in the first instance and supporting them with guidance for the programme.

EDT since 2005

Soon after my appointment it was realised by STEM industries that the main people resources within the STEM workforce were skewed to an ageing demographic. Due to the decline in the number of young people choosing to study subjects that could be applied to a career in engineering and related fields, there would be insufficient skilled workers to meet the demand to replace retirees and to resource industry growth. This became known as the STEM skills gap.

To meet this challenge, EDT shifted emphasis to using employer engagement to seek to inspire young people into STEM careers, rather than mainly reinforcing perceptions through providing work experiences for those who were already considering these careers.

EDT, therefore, expanded our programmes to help industry to connect with young people at an earlier stage in their education, creating projects such as Go4SET, which enables 12 to 14-year-olds to work on mainly environmentally related projects within a real industry context – with the goal of helping them to apply their classroom knowledge practically.

We also developed First Edition and Inspire, which help industry to connect with under-represented groups, aiming to demonstrate that engineering and similar careers are for anyone from any background.

Studies have shown that young people tend to select future careers from a relatively narrow pool of jobs that include just 34 per cent of the roles that will actually be available in 2020. Typically, they choose careers that they are commonly exposed to (teacher, police officer, doctor) or ones that they may have seen in media. STEM industry insights are important to allow them to catch a vision for careers of which they may not be currently aware and to inform them of the pathway options.

Industrial Cadets

I am particularly excited by the Industrial Cadets initiative, inspired by Prince Charles and co-ordinated by EDT. Industrial Cadets is an award driven by a quality standards accreditation for the employer which can be applied to any STEM programme meeting those standards. Programmes might include site visits, presentations and talks, hands-on team tasks, workshops and project work. The accreditation allows for important knowledge about careers in local industry to be shared. The young people involved in accredited programmes “graduate” with awards at bronze, silver, gold or platinum levels, depending on the time and activities involved. This gives a valuable addition to their CV which will be understood by employers nationally.

Conclusion

Throughout my time with EDT I have learnt and seen in action that teachers provide a vital link with STEM employers and fulfil a crucial enabling role for any STEM engagement programme. These STEM engagement programmes are important for guiding young people to the right qualifications and pathways for the jobs of 2020 and beyond, and to enable them to be inspired by the potential of those jobs.

In the Industrial Cadet awards I believe that EDT is providing a vital new tool to enable teachers to assess the STEM engagement options available to them from different organisations.

I now leave the development of EDT to others and I will certainly miss the enthusiasm and positive contribution of the many teachers I have met over the past 12 years.

  • Dr Gordon Mizner is the out-going chief executive of education charity EDT.

Further information

The Engineering Development Trust delivers 40,000 STEM experiences each year for young people aged nine to 21 across the UK. The charity’s range of work-related learning schemes provide opportunities for young people to enhance their technical, personal and employability skills through industry-led projects, industrial placements and specialised taster courses. For full details on the programmes, visit
www.etrust.org.uk and for more on Industrial Cadets, visit www.industrialcadets.org.uk


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