STEMming Forth project, improving the way the Atkins promotes STEM careers

STEMming Forth!

The AtkinsSTEMming Forth!’ project was launched in March 2013 with the aim of improving the way Atkins promotes STEM related careers to children and young adults in the UK.  Up until that point, varying amounts of activity was undertaken by people based across the country on a locally determined basis. Whilst this meant there was a high degree of energy and local responsibility, there was little central knowledge or co-ordination so it was difficult to provide support and monitor progress.

In this case study, Atkins outlines how it set up ‘light touch’ co-ordination and support in order to enable the genuine enthusiasm and innovative ideas to continue to underpin the activity on a local basis, as well as providing the tools and network to facilitate best practice, support and knowledge sharing. The company also provides an example of one of its local initiatives and how it works in practice.

Bringing the activity together

To bring the activity together, an initial workshop was held with internal champions and other stakeholders. The idea was to plot a way forward and to articulate the high level objectives:

  • Attract many more young people into STEM careers particularly engineering
  • Generate interest in infrastructure among young people
  • Inspire a generation to understand the range of careers available as a result of STEM studies
  • Broaden the company’s offering so that apprenticeships attract high calibre individuals
  • Promote the value, opportunity and financial benefits of a career in STEM
  • Increase the numbers of girls interested in studying for this type of career

One of the conclusions drawn in the workshop was that, rather than create a top down, heavily managed approach – which it was felt would stifle the creativity and ownership in the more successful local ‘hubs’ – the approach would be to build on existing areas of local good practice.  A model of local hubs emerged, starting in the larger offices, bringing together colleagues from different Atkins businesses for local activities in schools and colleges.  National events such as The Big Bang Fair were led by colleagues from the business with appropriate project delivery experience, bringing in STEM champions from the local hubs to support them.

A steering group was convened to represent the interests of the stakeholders, and sponsors were assigned from across all areas of Atkins’ business.  A ‘promoter’ was then identified to host a launch event at each hub and they were supported with ‘launch packs’ and an online briefing.  Seven hubs launched around the UK between November 2013 and January 2014 and the National Programmes team started planning for The Big Bang Fair 2014.   The launch was accompanied with UK-wide internal communications during Tomorrows’ Engineers week (November 2013) and a supportive and encouraging quotation from the HR Director for UK and Europe.

At all of the hubs there is now an identified ‘hub co-ordinator’ and most have supporting committees to share out the workload.  An online collaboration site has been launched to allow the hubs to promote local activity and to enable the sharing of materials and ideas between hubs.  Co-ordinators will meet every two months by conference call to share news and best practice.  STEM champions are encouraged to log all of their activity online so that a record is built up of the type of activities we are undertaking and the organisations that Atkins work with.

Given that the need for more young people to follow STEM careers accompanied by the growth of vocational training will require more work experience opportunities, Atkins has also recently launched a project to develop a work experience toolkit to support managers with best practice, advice, HR policies and a link to their local STEM hub.

A local hub in practice: Bristol

Bristol is an example of a local hub in practice in Atkins. In terms of management, all STEM outreach activities at Atkins’ Bristol office are coordinated by the ‘Engineering Awareness (EA) Group’.

This group is supported by Atkins employees and works with schools across the South West to promote skills to young learners, actively encouraging them to enjoy STEM subjects and informing them about the fantastic career opportunities that are available to them.

The group has run interactive workshops in schools related to a range of STEM topics including cutting-edge engineering (Bloodhound SSC (Supersonic Car) which is being designed to break the 1,000mph speed limit)) and sustainability (Water for the World).

As well as regular events to bring out the fun side of engineering through practical design and build exercises, the Engineering Awareness Group also provides a range of services to schools and students such as careers talks and mock interviews.

During the last academic year (2012-13), the Group worked more than 20 schools and was involved in 36 events, and this year, it has already supported 25 events with a further 9 events in the pipeline.

Work Experience Opportunities

The Engineering Awareness Group organises two work experience weeks for Year 10 students and a week for Year 12 students.

The Year 10 work experience week is designed to give young people a broad overview of different engineering disciplines and each day is run by a different Atkins department, based around an activity to engage the students’ problem solving abilities and to offer them a real insight into what engineers do on a day-to-day basis. For 2014, the following departments are taking part: Aerospace, Defence, Energy, Highways & Transportation, and Water & Environment.

Work experience for Year 12 students is currently offered by the Aerospace department and consists of an engineering design project which requires the use of technical skills gained during the week, as well as making and understanding real world engineering decisions. Last year, the students designed an ejector seat for an aircraft.

Flying Start Challenge

Atkins is a sponsor for the Flying Start Challenge which is a contest run by businesses and organisations in the South West for local schools to help develop science and engineering skills and highlight the opportunities available in engineering careers.

The challenge is open to one class of Year 7-9 pupils per school, with the students expected to work in teams of four. The task is: ‘to design and build a hand-launched glider’.

Engineers from Atkins support the student teams by providing advice on aspects of design, manufacturing and testing.

Link with the local University Technical College (UTC)

Atkins’ Bristol office has formed a partnership with the Bristol Technology & Engineering Academy and is helping develop design projects for its engineering students.

This further reinforces Atkins’ commitment to local education providers and allows the company to directly contribute to the development of the next generation of designers and engineers.