Simon Owens, founder of Kaizen Talent Solutions talks about his decision to become a STEM Ambassador
What are STEM ambassadors?
STEM Ambassadors are volunteers who help to promote STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) to young people. They do this through a range of activities from delivering practical demonstrations and experiments to giving advice on careers and employability skills. There are currently around 30,000 Ambassadors across the UK and they are rightly proud of the diversity of the group with 40% being women and 13% from BAME (Black & Minority Ethnic) backgrounds.
What made you want to get involved?
I’ve been working in engineering and manufacturing recruitment for over 12 years and I am at the sharp end of the shortage of STEM candidates on a daily basis. I feel strongly about the need to improve the uptake of these subjects in order to address the critical shortage of candidates in these essential sectors. I’m looking forward to raising awareness of STEM careers.
What difference do you see yourself being able to make?
I am passionate about STEM and I hope that my enthusiasm will be infectious! One of the key things Ambassadors can do is help to change perceptions about STEM careers; I work every day with some very cool companies recruiting candidates into amazing jobs. A career in say, procurement, with Aston Martin, Rolls Royce or a luxury yacht manufacturer is a far cry from the stereotypical image many young people have of working in engineering.
What aspects of your knowledge and experience do you think will be useful?
While I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some of the classroom experiments (which look like a lot of fun) one thing I love about the scheme is the onus they also place on developing employability skills. These are the softer, transferable skills that young people will need to demonstrate if they want to compete at the highest level. I have a good understanding of what employers are looking for and can add a lot in terms of CV preparation and interview skills.
I also want to convey that many roles in these specialisms offer more attractive career paths and salaries than other alternatives. The graduate employment record of STEM subjects is second to none; the top seven subjects for immediate employment or postgraduate study are all from the health group, while four categories of engineering are in the top ten for graduates’ starting salaries.
Is there still a gender bias in the uptake of STEM subjects and careers?
While women are in the majority of university applications for health subjects and biological sciences, in engineering and computer science this ratio is 1:6 in favour of men. My own experience recruiting into engineering and manufacturing careers is also similarly skewed towards men; of the 200 or so candidates I have recruited in the last 12 years only a handful were women which is extremely disappointing.
What impact have STEM Ambassadors had so far?
Research done this summer showed that the STEM Ambassadors and STEM clubs have made a real impact on employability skills with teachers as well as pupils agreeing there had been significant improvements in communication, problem-solving and teamwork. The findings also encouragingly showed that the number of pupils who said they enjoyed science increased from 55% to 71% after contact with a STEM Ambassador.
What was your own experience of careers advice at school?
Poor! I remember having to fill in a lengthy questionnaire only to find out I was best suited to life as a poet! Things have moved on since then but there is still more to be done.
Does being a father yourself have a bearing on your passion for this subject?
Yes and no! I want my daughter first and foremost to study the subjects she enjoys whatever they might be but I also want her to consider all options and have easy access to the information that will help her make well informed choices.
How can others get involved?
The STEMnet website has plenty of information including FAQs and links to video interviews with existing Ambassadors and examples of the projects they have delivered. First and foremost, no prior experience is necessary, the key requirement being enthusiasm for STEM and the drive to communicate this with passion and conviction.