STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, is now the leading buzzword in UK schools. STEM is an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to learning that provides hands-on and relevant learning experiences for students. It engages students and equips them with critical thinking, problem solving, creative and collaborative skills, and ultimately establishes connections between the school, work place, community and the global economy. Taking this into account, we don’t tend to think of it as something that is particularly relevant to the corporate business world. However, as Corporate Social Responsibility is becoming a focus point for employers, an increased number of companies are not only getting on board with STEM and other educational relationships, but finding it is very much a two-way path. It’s not only what your business can do for local schools, and indeed colleges and universities, but what they can do for you.
Professional bodies are already well into the lead with formalising this. ICE NI G&S actively promote industry engagement in STEM activities. RPS’ Dr. Grainne McQuaid is the current ICE Graduate and Students Chairperson for Northern Ireland and works flexibly around the needs of her roles. Within this role Grainne has led a committee in organising events for ICE graduates and students including training evenings, competitions, social events and a well-attended conference on 'Digital Transformation', where RPS also provided a workshop on our use of VR technology. She has provided presentations and speed mentoring to university students as a part of her ICE STEM engagement – demonstrating the working life of a civil engineer and the opportunities available within a multidisciplinary organisation. A number of these STEM events have focused particularly on encouraging women into STEM careers, which is becoming increasingly more important than ever with the growing skills shortage within industry. Grainne, along with RPS colleagues represented RPS and ICE at the two-day Skills NI careers event in Belfast which was attended by over 7,500 students and teachers.
Close work with universities has helped us share key research resources and new ways of thinking: currently through our PhD coordination with Delft Technical University reviewing water safety geotechnics and through collaboration with Western Australian final year high school students to survey introduced marine species in Casuarina Harbour and Koombana Bay. Students have the benefit of working directly with and learning from professionals as well as using latest technology data capture instruments and RPS has the benefit of a fresh input from the perspective of the latest educational viewpoints and standards.
Many businesses already have a number of staff who are very active in their local primary/elementary and secondary/high schools, ranging from school governors to voluntary lesson and activities assistance. Until quite recently this was just what people did, but now companies can be encouraged to celebrate this properly as not only does it tick CSR boxes, but it makes us look at the relationships we have with the schools through this.
Above all else, STEM doesn’t have to be a tedious subject! Some of RPS’ most popular educational events have included showcasing VR at careers events with the VR attracting thousands of stand visitors, and demonstrating balloon kebabs at the Institute of Physics, ‘Physics in the Field’ day where James Daley and colleagues from our Warrington Risk office regularly demonstrate Physics experiments to family audiences. The Warrington Risk team also attend an annual STEM event at a local school, with increased popularity each year, with the teachers stating the students "were buzzing around school talking about the RPS Risk Stand" for weeks afterwards. How many new risk consultants might join RPS in coming years citing their career inspiration as watching RPS’ science demonstrations?!