Context, Inspiration and Information

It’s April 2012 and the long discussed National Careers Service has now been launched. Having been the National STEM Careers Coordinator for several years, I had plenty of opportunity to come to my own conclusions about what was needed to ensure young people end up making appropriate choices. I feel that information is important, but also inspiration, context and appropriate guidance too. For years now, the acronym used has been CIAG, which stands for Careers Information …. and advice …. and Guidance.

 Information – for decision making.

If you go online to look up ‘how to become a chemical engineer’ you will find lots of useful information.  But what if you wouldn’t think to type that?  Or if you have preconceptions which would stop you searching for this information? I often hear people say ‘I wish they’d told me I how useful maths is for such-and-such’.  The chances are they didn’t ask, because they didn’t realise it was a relevant question.  So yes information, particularly at ‘decision time’ such as GCSE or post-16 choices, is important. However I feel the groundwork is equally important to enable people to make best use of this information.

 Inspiration – for progression.

How important are role models?  Just last week I was using four of the ‘Maths & Science, see where they can take you’ films at a series of lectures at West Notts College.  I could have just described the roles that Jo, Liza, Andrew and Tom had, and the work they did, but how much more inspirational to see they were real people, doing real jobs, and loving what they do.  One of the best role models I know is Phil Robbins, the STEM Ambassador who co-runs the after school STEM club with me at Pixies Hill School, where my children used to go. I’m sure in 10 years time, we’ll find newly qualified engineers getting in touch, by whatever is the social networking method in vogue, to say it was Phil who inspired them to keep going with maths and science later in their education by showing them how it can be useful, fun, serious and experimental …. and OK for Year 5 & 6 kids to enjoy as so much more than just a school subject.

 Context – for Motivation

One of the ’10 facts and fictions’ from the Kings College London ASPIRES group was that you can never start careers awareness too young.  I wonder if that also means awareness of self-identity, and where that can both help and hinder informed career choices. The additional ASPIRES work on self-identity has opened my eyes as to how complex the choices made by young people are, but it is clear that cultural capital makes a difference – how much exposure they get to STEM outside of the classroom. Also, just being given a context for learning can make a difference to motivation.

 National Science and Engineering Week

I was incredibly busy in March because of NSEW (which seems to be much longer than a week) and the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham.  I was delighted to see that the Big Bang Fair fulfilled all my three categories – in bucket loads.  There were lots of inspirational people (including the wonderful winners of the Young Engineers and Young Scientist of the Year, and the numerous other accolades in the National Science and Engineering Competition). There were masses of context, and lots of motivation, from the Bang Goes the Theory crowd to the jaw-droppingly impressive Science Junkies. And there was plenty of information, including the ‘whose crew are you’ game to play.  (I came out as the ‘power crew’ – suits me!)

 Even over the school holidays we can support our children, and the young people we meet. We can make a difference by watching STEM related TV as families, giving context for their learning. We can go to museums and live events.  Even do some kitchen science ourselves. And at family gatherings we can share our experience of the STEM related work we do – hopefully to inspire!  And, of course, we can make sure that we are well enough informed that when asked a question, we give an up-to-date and relevant answer, or know where to go to get it.  I currently point young people to futuremorph, maths careers and tomorrow’s engineers when I get stuck. Over the holidays, I’ll be checking out the new careers service to see if I’ll be recommending that too.