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Posted on:
8th February, 2018

How ambassadors of the Northern Powerhouse are tackling the skills gap

With the economy of the North of England in the political limelight, our local youth are facing high expectations. We need to equip these young people with the skills to create a powerhouse strong enough to redistribute wealth across the UK and ensure we can compete globally.

How ambassadors of the Northern Powerhouse are tackling the skills gap

By Andy Clarke, STEM Ambassador Hub Manager

The next generation need to be innovators, utilising cutting edge technology. Highly skilled experts are needed, and others will need to be adaptable lifelong learners, for jobs that don’t yet exist. So how do we prepare such a generation?

The STEM Ambassador programme is certainly playing its part. With over 3,000 STEM Ambassadors across the Trans-Pennine region, this army of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) volunteers represent a wide variety of industries, from Wigan to Whitby.  With a passion for inspiring young people in STEM subjects and careers, STEM Ambassadors can support either inside or outside the classroom. They get involved in a range of activities including careers talks, mentoring, curriculum support and STEM Clubs. An invaluable and free-of-charge resource, they provide young people with an insight into what they do and the routes to get there, addressing stereotypes about STEM careers. 

LEPs can play play a significant role in helping with those aims. Through the Leeds City Region LEP,  we are made aware of events that STEM ambassadors can assist in where their expertise would be really useful. The Leeds City region has  five ‘Enterprise coordinators’,  one for each of the councils that make up the metropolitan county of  West Yorkshire and the wider West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

STEM ambassadors are keen to share intelligence and contacts with Local Enterprise Partnerships, and we’re looking to assist in joint ventures. The STEM ambassador programme in West Yorkshire worked with the LEP Enterprise coordinators on the ‘NPL Water Rocket Challenge’ as well as attending and contributing to STEM Ambassador functions that we have held.

The STEM Ambassador Trans-Pennine hub is managed by the Science Museum Group on behalf of STEM Learning and is based in the north, at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, and the National Railway Museum in York.  The Trans Pennine Hub enables ambassadors to reach both schools and the wider community through informal learning activities.

The Leeds City Region aims to “increase meaningful engagement between businesses and learners, in schools, colleges and universities” by 2020, (The State of the Leeds City Region Labour Market 2015/2016 Challenges and Potential) as part of its employment and skills plan for the region. The Trans Pennine Hub is in an ideal position to facilitate this goal, with 90% of state funded high schools across the region having engaged with STEM Ambassadors at least once in the last 12 months. The opportunities to offer young people multiple instances of participation, with a wide range of STEM industries, is a great way to ensure schools and young people understand the local labour market and what is on offer for them. 

Some of the country’s most diverse communities are in the Trans-Pennine region.  The STEM Ambassador programme offers the opportunity to address equality and diversity in all its forms amongst STEM employers, volunteers and young people alike.  The Leeds City Region for example, through its Employer Adviser Network, has supported STEM Ambassadors in conferences at the National Science and Media Museum focussing on increasing BAME and gender diversity. This has resulted in a sub-network of Equality Champion STEM Ambassadors and teachers, who are supported to tackle this issue with young people in their communities. The next generation of STEM employees are in those communities mentioned. The STEM Ambassador programme may be the catalyst for many of those individuals. 

We work with young people who are most likely to have low Science Capital, a concept which helps us understand why some young people participate in STEM-related experiences and some do not.

At the age where they make careers choices, the theory states young people should have enough information to make informed decisions. However, research shows that although most 12-year olds enjoy science subjects, by the time choices are made about studying at GCSE and beyond, a diminishing number of young people choose these subjects.  For girls, this problem is amplified. As role models who illustrate what a career in STEM really looks, STEM Ambassadors can inspire young people to increase their science capital, and increase their potential to pursue STEM subjects further.

LEPs can help by advertising  the STEM Ambassador network through their ‘Enterprise coordinators’ and can state how they could assist schools colleges and non-school groups. Closer co operation would enhance the offer to schools as we try to close the skills gap in the North. Functions organised by LEPS  for young people that are STEM based can always benefit  from the presence of knowledgeable STEM Ambassadors who have up to date knowledge and LMI of their industry and practices.  Careers events in the same way can assist young people in choosing careers with the presence of a STEM Ambassador.

The STEM Ambassador programme helps teachers to support students to develop employability skills and careers knowledge. 90% of teachers nationally reported that STEM Ambassadors improve their contextualisation of the curriculum with up-to-date STEM information and 89% that their students’ awareness of the importance of STEM increased from working with STEM Ambassadors.  

Locally and nationally, politicians recognise the economy needs rebalancing.  Two hundred years ago, the powerhouse of the north was the engine that drove prosperity in the UK. Will our future workforce be the second generation to lead an industrial revolution? STEM Ambassadors from industry across the North are in a great position to prepare our youth to engage with the exciting opportunities ahead. To find out more about the programme, please visit www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors/ambassadors

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