Embedding employability skills and engaging students in STEM

Work collage

How can we better integrate employability skills into science teaching? Sarah Longshaw, our Lead at the Cheshire & The Wirral Science Learning Partnership (SLP), looks at how one school in their area got Year 9 and 10 students enthusiastic to explore STEM careers.

For Alsager, a Triple Science Intensive school, the inspiration to embed careers firmly within the science curriculum came after attending STEM careers CPD led by Liz Painter, a former science teacher, now Pledge Co-ordinator within the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership. Cheshire & Warrington Pledge is an initiative, subdivided into smaller regions, where schools work closely with businesses to support young people to be successful by developing employability related skills.

Embedding STEM careers

Following the session in November, Liz Riding, the school’s second in science, started embedding clips of relevant STEM careers into Year 9 and 10 biology lessons. These short clips (such as those found on icould.com) were used to highlight the opportunities that studying STEM subjects afforded. For example, a Year 9 lesson in the Health unit featured a dietician, whilst Year 10 lessons on the heart included a phlebotomist and a heart surgeon. 

"We feel it is important to address stereotyping so we are including male nurses and female physicists, for example. It is important to increase the numbers of women who believe they can work in STEM industries."

This is now being rolled out so that all key stage 3 and 4 schemes will include careers links and videos. In the KS3 schemes, we feel it is also important to address stereotyping so we are including male nurses and female physicists, for example. It is important to increase the numbers of women who believe they can work in STEM industries.

The next step taken was setting a careers-based homework activity related to the GCSE biology topic, Organisation. Students were asked to research careers and produce a fact file including a job description, entry requirements, potential salary and local employers. A display board was set up in the department to showcase this work and also to highlight a different STEM career each month.  This is being developed to include local companies and to highlight that not all STEM jobs are only for higher attainers. It has also featured work experience placements carried out by students.

A focus on employability skills

Teachers focused on the employability skills featured on the STEM learning poster emphasising to the students the relevant skills developed when undertaking practical work. These include teamwork, organisational skills and problem-solving to name a few. 

The identification of skills has been particularly motivating for lower attaining students, helping to engage them in practicals. This is being extended so that these statements and skills are incorporated into lesson PowerPoints, to emphasise that students are learning employment skills and not just science. The school is now producing stickers and postcards linking these employability skills to local labour market information.

Adapting to online teaching

Hearing of the impact from that first CPD session, the Cheshire SLP lead fed this back to Liz Painter at the Pledge, which culminated in Alsager being invited to take part in a virtual careers festival that the Pledge was running. 

Year 10 and 11 students from the school were invited to participate in the session delivered by local pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca.

In the live session, microbiologists Miriam Guest, Georgie Critchlow and Benjamin Pickard shared a summary of what it's like to work in the pharmaceutical industry.  Students learnt about interactions with other scientists and how the principles of infection control related to manufacturing medicines. The speakers also shared information on AstraZeneca’s response to COVID-19 and some of the activities required to develop new medicinal products.

The session was offered to Year 10 and Year 11 triple scientists in the hope that it may inspire some of them to continue with science at A level and pursue a STEM career. The Year 10s had also had their work experience (which should have been in June) cancelled, so this seemed like a fitting alternative. 

Prior to attending the session, the students were set some preparative work which included researching AstraZeneca, revising immunity and finding out about a COVID-19 vaccination. During the session, they were also set a challenge – to either research and label a biohazard suit or to produce a flow process chart of the steps from taking a swab to the observation of an agar plate after incubation. Understanding this procedure is part of one of the required practicals at GCSE and A level.

Seeing the results

Prior to the LearnLive session, students also filled in a questionnaire relating to their STEM aspirations and after the session, they were asked the same two questions, plus two others about whether they would like more information on STEM careers and whether their attitudes had changed. One hundred and thirty-four students attended the LearnLive session, where they were able to pose their questions to the scientists in the live chat box to find out more about the potential for a similar career.

One of the outcomes for the original CPD was to ‘know how to embed an awareness of STEM careers into day to day teaching’ – Alsager’s science department has certainly demonstrated that they do!

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