£1.1 million to get kids into engineering

20 January 2009

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK are to be given a helping hand into careers in engineering, thanks to £1.1 million of government funding. The grant, awarded to The Smallpeice Trust will promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects to 8000 school children from low-income families, ethnic minorities and girls.

The funding came from the Children, Young People and Families Grant Programme and will enable The Smallpeice Trust, in partnership with STEMNET and the WISE Campaign, to run its campaign over two consecutive years. The courses will specifically target ‘hard to reach’ groups.

‘Get Ahead With Stem’ will start in April 2009. The Smallpeice Trust will deliver 160 STEM days, half or one day in-school sessions, and 8 residential courses. Each STEM day will introduce 50 pupils to the challenges of a hands-on design-and-make project, to increase their understanding of the importance of STEM subjects and develop transferable skills such as teamwork, creativity, problem solving and time management. Participants for the residential courses will be selected from STEM day attendees, with each course giving 100 pupils the opportunity to gain an even deeper insight into engineering plus a taste of university life.

Furthermore, the programme is hoped to benefit the industry. Recent industry surveys show the major concern for engineering businesses at the moment is not a lack of demand for business, but rather a distinct shortage of skilled personnel. Encouraging students to choose science and technology subjects at GCSE and A Level is an ambition referred to in the Science and Innovation Investment Framework Next Steps publication of 2006, and one which will play a crucial role in ensuring UK industry has a big enough pool of talent to maintain its competitiveness in years to come. Currently, only eight per cent of engineering and technical workers are female, which is why the courses have an objective of achieving at least 50 per cent female participation.

Dr Andrew Cave, chief executive of the Smallpeice Trust, said: ‘We are delighted to receive funding which will enable us to reach those that might not otherwise have the opportunity to consider engineering as a viable career choice, and to address the emerging skills gap.

‘Our new courses will give 8000 pupils from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds an inspiring introduction to STEM careers, which offer higher-than-average earnings and routes into the highest levels in industry. In addition, the courses will enhance the professional STEM delivery skills of 200 teachers and make a positive social contribution in promoting the benefits of teamwork.’

Terry Marsh, director of WISE, added: ‘Girls often find they are drifting into traditional apprenticeship fields of childcare or hairdressing. They often have little awareness, understanding or experience of other career possibilities and so cannot make truly informed choices. This project will show them the personal relevance of the exciting opportunities in Science, Engineering and Technology, and perhaps change their lives.’

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