James Howarth, head of STEM Strategy at RS Components, explores the role that creativity can play in inspiring tomorrows generation of engineers.
Engineering – a damn dirty job or an exciting and diverse career choice? Overcoming perceptions about engineering and what a career in the sector involves is half the battle in raising awareness and increasing uptake of subjects that lead into engineering and technology. This is a job that needs to be done on multiple levels – from raising awareness among influencers such as teachers and parents, to bringing the topic to schoolchildren as young as possible and inspiring them from the outset.
Creativity is key to all of this. Demonstrating just how exciting, interesting and varied engineering can be through creative initiatives is the best way to engage children. Bringing the topic to life is crucial.
This is why at RS Components, we have been involved with various initiatives, as well as creating our own programmes, to ensure that creativity is at the very heart of these efforts. The development of Titan II, RS’ innovation truck, signified a major investment in ensuring the latest technology being used in industry today is brought directly to children and students to interact with first-hand. Giving them real, hands-on experiences with exciting technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, IoT and robotics gives them a glimpse into the world of engineering and technology – highlighting how important this is for the future and what a career in this industry could involve.
We have increased our network of STEM Ambassadors from 50 to more than 200 in the last year. These Ambassadors have been involved in many activities supporting both RS initiatives and wider community initiatives across the UK, and are given freedom to take part in STEM initiatives during working hours. This is testament to the fact that the whole RS business, from the CEO down, is fully committed to supporting STEM. As a result, we have recorded 2,069 hours of STEM ambassador support across 113 events in the last year. RS has a dedicated resource to coordinate all STEM Ambassador activity in conjunction with the relevant STEM Hubs, and a monthly STEM Ambassador newsletter provides updates on recent activities and future volunteering opportunities. Monthly STEM Ambassador recruitment days at our London and Corby offices are held to attract new volunteers. Our Ambassadors have also been trained by many of our technology suppliers to enable them to run hands-on workshops in schools and clubs, in subjects such as coding and robotics, in order to bring STEM subjects to life in an engaging and inspiring way.
Over three days in July 2019, RS hosted its first STEMFEST event at the RS Headquarters in Corby. Over 600 students from 18 primary and secondary schools took part in STEM-themed workshops, seminars and activities. On the final day, more than 800 friends and families of RS also attended. The event was supported by 50 STEM Ambassadors on each day, including external ambassadors from the area. We were also featured extensively on BBC Look East news and across relevant social media channels.
Becoming the headline sponsor of the FIRST® LEGO® League competition is another demonstration of how RS helps to bring creativity to the STEM agenda.
FIRST® LEGO® League is a global STEM challenge for teams of young people, to encourage an interest in real-world themes and develop key skills that are crucial for their future careers. As well as sponsorship of the challenge in the UK and Ireland, RS hosted an East Midlands regional tournament, held in Corby. The two-day tournament involved 20 teams of children aged 9-16 years-old from schools in the East Midlands region. Teams worked over a period of 12-16 weeks to explore a given topic (which this year was CITYSHAPER) and to design, build and program an autonomous LEGO® robot to solve a series of missions. Funding from RS’ sponsorship ensured children from disadvantaged backgrounds were able to take part, and RS provided more than 50 of its STEM Ambassadors to support the event with refereeing, judging and timekeeping.
Many teachers are also trying to get to grips with the changing face of engineering and how to bring the topic to the classroom. For this reason, RS launched Imagine-X in 2019 – an initiative providing free teacher resources – available through the RS STEM Hub – to help pupils realise the potential of STEM and their imaginations. Imagine-X was developed by RS to assist teachers and educators in the delivery of STEM subjects, and gives them free curriculum-aligned resources for pupils aged 7-14. It links dynamic, exciting STEM subjects to real people who have used these skills to make the world a better place.
These unique free lesson resources were developed with help from primary and secondary school teachers, education experts and groups of students from key stages 2 and 3.
It is clear that STEM skills act as the perfect platform to a more socially mobile and globally impactful life. They broaden horizons, empower the disadvantaged and diversify life choices. Many young people have yet to see the bigger impact these skills could have on the world, but through the use of creativity to push the STEM agenda, and ensuring teachers and educators are able to bring STEM subjects to life in a meaningful and engaging way, we can ignite the imagination of millions of young people in primary and secondary education and have a positive impact on the skills shortage.
James Howarth is head of STEM Strategy at RS Components