From industry to award ceremony: my STEM Insight journey

ENTHUSE Celebration Awards regional finalThe organisation I work for actively encourages staff to participate in various CPD as it directly benefits staff and learners by introducing new ideas and innovation.

This is done both informally and formally using training days and departmental meetings. When I approached my line manger about the STEM Insight programme and the possibility of spending a week at Cavendish, they were wholly supportive (if not overjoyed at the prospect of a week without me!).

Although there were various placement opportunities available, from construction to electronics (some of which were located much closer to home), I felt that the strong link between economic development and future career opportunities within my own area was more nuclear focused (there is a new nuclear facility planned for Anglesey - on our doorstep).

I jumped at the chance to visit Cavendish owing to their links with existing North Wales nuclear facilities (which are no longer generating) in a care and maintenance role.

Why STEM Insight?

There have been 17 years since I graduated - we didn’t have smart phones then! And even longer to since some of my colleagues were in education or even working in industry. I felt that I (or we) as training providers are falling out of touch with the workplace, in preparing them for jobs we didn’t know about 17 years ago.

In one respect, the education system had become overly dependent on careers advisors sharing information on career pathways with learners. Additional funding pressures in Wales has put a greater demand and emphasis on teaching staff to fill in the blanks and assist learners with career advice.

With this in mind, I felt it was a natural decision to look for an industrial placement, and the week-long experience gave sufficient time to get a feel for an organisation and the roles which were on offer. 

What was your experience of the STEM Insight placement?

The week flew by, primarily down to a detailed timetable, which allowed me to visit various departments and meet different roles and pathways within the company.

"For me, the most unexpected outcome of participating in STEM Insight was that I discovered that within some sectors there remains a focus on academic routes into engineering, although the apprenticeship route is now starting to increase its foothold."

I met with apprentices at different stages in their training, from first year Level 3 to graduate apprentices. We had open discussions about which skills they felt needed to be strengthened at the point of career entry to ensure a smooth transition, to the listening ears of industry who were also keen to listen to suggestions about how companies could improve their relationship with training providers to do this.

Although there were some engineering specific skills, what struck me is that the apprentices themselves felt that their college courses had not equipped them with enough of the softer skills such as presentation skills, technical report writing and interview skills. These are all skills which could be strengthened within programmes for learning in the FE sector and schools.

The follow-up day allowed me to meet other professionals from different parts of the country enabling me to share my own experiences as well as learning about innovative ideas elsewhere – thus ensuring currency with more employment sectors.

For me, the most unexpected outcome of participating in STEM Insight was that I discovered that within some sectors there remains a focus on academic routes into engineering, although the apprenticeship route is now starting to increase its foothold.

Although there is an assumption that all engineers will be educated to degree level, in reality the jobs market breakdown clearly shows that there will be more demand for technical and operator level staff whom have a knowledge of engineering skills.

I was also surprised to learn that the gaps in learning relates to the softer skills rather than academic knowledge.

How have you, your students, colleagues and college benefitted from your experiences?

The college has a clear system of sharing CPD knowledge via a series of nominated departmental STEM Ambassadors termed ‘energy champions’. Information is shared in a small group setting from half termly meetings within their own departments, both formally and informally. This is how it is possible to integrate ideas and generate interest in local employment.

"The support of the STEM Learning team with valuable CPD activities and resources has proved invaluable."

Following my STEM Insight experience, I was also the winner of the ENTHUSE Award for Excellence in STEM teaching – FE at the regional final at the National Assembly in Wales. It was an honour to receive the award on behalf of staff at our organisation and our learners, it will most certainly act as motivation for next year’s CPD activities and inspire more staff to upskill.

The support of the STEM Learning team with valuable CPD activities and resources has proved invaluable. I hope to use more STEM CPD events in the future in order to update my own knowledge and encourage others to participate in industrial experience placements.

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