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How your business can benefit from engaging with STEMNET’s STEM Ambassadors programme

STEMNET (the Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics Network) aims to create opportunities to inspire young people in STEM. They work directly with thousands of schools and they run the UK’s only network of STEM Ambassadors: over 30,000 brilliant and inspiring volunteers.

The Good Careers Guide's Laura Moss talks to Dr Sam Healy, Group Corporate Responsibility Director at QinetiQ, a leading science, defence and technology company, about their long engagement with the STEM Ambassadors programme.

‘STEM outreach is at the heart of our community investment strategy. Inspiring the next generation to be scientists and engineers is a great way to have a positive impact in our local communities. For example, our Powerboat Challenge is an annual event, bringing teams from local schools together to design and race model boats at our Ocean Basin facility. It is really inspiring for your people and was recently commended in parliament by Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan and Suella Fernandes, Fareham MP.

Engaging with local schools and communities strengthens relationships and provides the solid pipeline of skills needed to combat the skills crisis. Our employees really value the opportunity to share the excitement and enthusiasm they have for their work and it can inspire the younger generation to think about future opportunities.‘

Our strategy is to work with a trusted third party, and STEMNET is the obvious choice because of their range, credibility and the service they offer,’ says Sam.

And their stats are impressive. With regional representatives, working with 95 per cent of secondary schools across the UK, and over 3,000 employers, STEMNET has built up a strong reputation with schools and businesses in most local communities. Funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), STEMNET provides free training to volunteers. STEMNET will also sort out the clearance required for your employees to work with young people, known as DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service). After they are cleared, STEM Ambassadors receive regular email alerts listing activities and events they can get involved with.
‘From a company perspective, the partnership is extremely beneficial,’ says Sam. ‘To know that I’ve got a national network supporting our employee volunteers is brilliant.’

Corporate Responsibility programmes such as volunteering as the STEM Ambassadors programme also have a positive impact on employee well-being and motivation. People want to feel proud of the company where they work and that its aims and ethos are aligned with their own. ‘We’ve had great support and positive feedback from our employees,’ says Sam. An invested employee is less likely to look for a job elsewhere and the benefits of improved employee retention can range from reduced turnover costs and improved service productivity to a more experienced workforce and increased employee engagement.

It has become an increasingly important factor for graduates and school leavers when it comes to choosing jobs. ‘Information regarding our outreach programmes can be found on the Graduate careers section of our website,’ says Sam. ‘It’s something that is often mentioned at careers fairs and interviews.
QinetiQ see a strong link between STEM outreach and recruitment opportunities in the future.

‘Engaging with pupils at Key Stage 3 and getting them excited about STEM helps inform them when they are deciding on their GCSEs and A Levels.’ says Sam. Many parents and teachers are simply not aware of the breadth of career opportunities in STEM and rely heavily on professionals to talk to children about their options after leaving school. ‘Even if you’re a small company with only two volunteers, you’re still part of the 30,000 volunteering network, so someone, somewhere is getting a young person enthused about STEM who will hopefully join the workforce and increase the skills pipeline in the UK ,’ says Sam.

STEM enrichment activities are well-established at secondary level but attitudes about what would be an appropriate career form long before students reach secondary level. The ASPIRES project run by Kings College London (KCL) has shown that while many children in the 10 – 14 age group enjoy science and consider themselves to be good at it, very few aspire to a career in STEM. The primary driver for STEM-focussed aspirations appears to be the level of what KCL term ‘science capital’ within a family: scientific qualifications and interest, and inside experience of the business and industry; in other words, high science capital is strongly correlated with knowing someone who works in a science-related job. Those with lower science capital frequently expect science to be the sole preserve of those with high exam results, but also to be male and middle-class.

Those without science capital in the family are unlikely to find it at school: the School Workforce Survey 2012 reports that only nine per cent of primary school teachers who are teaching science lessons hold a relevant degree and it is rare for primary school teaching staff to hold a maths qualification higher than A Level.  In addition, few primary schools have a maths lead, and even fewer primary school teaching staff hold a maths qualification higher than A Level.

Support in schools may be required from a young age to counter entrenched attitudes around gender and misperceptions passed on through parents, for example. A recent research study asked parents which future job opportunities available would be the best career choice for their child. The study, published in Engineering UK The State of Engineering, found that 18 per cent of boys’ parents mentioned science and technology, compared to nine per cent of girls’ parents. 11 per cent of parents would choose a career in engineering for their son while one per cent of parents would pick it for their daughter.

Sam personally mentored a pupil from a local school during an environmental summer project with the company. They kept in touch and following her Environmental Science Degree the student gained a full-time position at QinetiQ. ‘It’s just one example of how putting that time in at that early stage just pays dividends,’ says Sam. ‘To be able to offer her the opportunity to have someone to talk to about her options was so easy to do, but very rewarding,’ she adds.

Like many employers QinetiQ has found that those employees who have engaged with the STEM Ambassadors programme have opportunities to enhance important business skills such as communication stakeholder engagement and project management. ‘People sometimes think that volunteering is a bit of a soft option but it isn’t,’ says Sam. ‘An audience of kids can be a tough crowd and if your presentation isn’t going well, they’ll let you know. It really focuses the mind on how to communicate in a clear and engaging manner’. The development of softer skills is particularly important for companies where the focus is often on technical ability.

Work as a STEM Ambassador involves being in different stakeholder situations where you are engaging with pupils one minute and teachers and parents the next. Employees can benefit from the challenge of having to adapt their message to different audiences. They have to learn how to succinctly distil complex ideas into something more user-friendly, which is useful when it comes to talking to customers. QinetiQ sees such value in the STEM Ambassadors experience that they have written guidance for employees on how to embed their outreach work into their performance reviews.

‘The beauty of STEMNET is the simplicity of the model. The ease of access and the sheer scope of what they’re able to do across the nation is fantastic,’ says Sam. ‘They just fundamentally know how to do STEM outreach, why wouldn’t you work with them?’

Find out from individual STEM Ambassadors what they think of the programme by reading our independent review here.

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