From education to employment

This is an exciting time to be involved in careers outreach for the science industry

Rachel Brickell, Careers Manager at Cogent Skills

Why careers outreach in science is ready for switching up 

Over the last two years, the sciences have been under immense pressure. Diverse organisations from our sector have stood on the front-line in the battle against COVID-19. Yet, despite the challenges, these businesses have been pivotal in safeguarding society’s future following the global pandemic.

Here at the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) we represent over 30 leading science organisations, from AstraZeneca and Pfizer to GSK and Fujifilm.  As a powerful, employer-led membership alliance supported by Cogent Skills, the SIP campaigns for quality apprenticeship standards, and representation of science throughout the skills system. SIP provides a ‘one-voice’ to government ensuring that industry is heard, and that skills policy and future public investment is made to enable future competitiveness, productivity, and growth.

Paul Hunt, our SIP Board member, R&D Director at Victrex, and careers advocate, said,

“After research was undertaken by the SIP in 2018 in response to the Life Sciences Sector Deal, our ambition has been to bolster the 250,000 skilled scientific and technical employees needed in the UK through to 2025. Now, against a backdrop of vaccine development and rapid scientific innovation, it is more vital than ever to maintain outreach activities to strengthen future talent in the science sectors.”

Tackling science skills gaps

Since the creation of the SIP in October 2013, our alliance focusses on engaging the scientific community in careers outreach. It is vital we plug the growing skills gap in our sector. We now give our member organisations the tools to educate young people at FE colleges, schools, and youth organisations about the depth and variety of job prospects available to them in this diverse industry.

All our member organisations benefit from access to SIP careers advice, bespoke materials adapted to industry specialisms, and off-the-shelf resources. We guide businesses on how to best work with educational partners and set up in-house careers outreach programmes themselves. Fundamental to this offer is interactive careers outreach training that I deliver face-to-face or remotely. Fully trained volunteers from our member organisations form the SIP Ambassador Programme, and this network is at the heart of our careers strategy. 

To date, we have trained over 600 SIP Ambassadors from over 100 science-industry employers. We empower these individuals with the skills to deliver demos and presentations about their career histories, talk about the breadth of careers available in science, and promote opportunities for students in their community. Ambassadors attend schools, colleges, and even youth organisations such as Scouts, Guides and Cadets to showcase fascinating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations. 

Building a world-class workforce

The benefits of the SIP Careers Strategy are numerous. Some of our member organisations have successfully woven the SIP Ambassador training into their apprenticeship and graduate inductions. Motivated staff gain new competencies through development opportunities while successfully bridging the gap between employers and the next generation of scientists and engineers. Science organisations are also tackling their CSR agendas and striving to meet Gatsby benchmarks for good careers guidance. 

A more diverse cohort of students is also getting access to science careers education and learning about aspirational vocations. We are widening participation and opening progression routes for the next generation of scientific talent. The long-term goal is to manage skills shortages while giving back to the community and generating positive exposure to STEM. Sometimes Ambassador outreach results in direct staff recruitment, which is brilliant, but this initiative is about a long-term approach to developing a valuable talent pipeline for the future.

Looking to the future

This is an exciting period for the Science Industry Partnership. We are launching the next strand of our outreach programme: the SIP Careers Taskforce. Previously, Ambassadors showcased the impact of their work at the SIP Board. Now, the Careers Taskforce (consisting entirely of younger employees with Ambassador training) will help shape strategies first-hand.

The Careers Taskforce is Chaired by Danny Acquisto, Associate Scientist at GSK. Danny is a perfect example of careers outreach in action. After hearing a GSK talk at his school, Danny enrolled on a degree apprenticeship programme in Applied Bioscience at the University of Kent. He works at GSK and finished his SIP Ambassador training. He is now sharing his own experience with others in the local community. 

Paul Hunt continued, 

“We are switching things up at the SIP with a novel approach to governance, amplifying the voice of those starting their career in the science industry. Those with a greater understanding and closer connection to the next generation of science professionals will help form the strategies that affect them. These industry collaborations, working in conjunction with the Science Industry Partnership, are helping to deliver the investment and changes necessary for creating a world-class skills system.”

Alongside the Taskforce, we are celebrating a new partnership. This alliance is with STEM Learning (the UK’s largest provider of education and careers support in STEM). Collaborating with impressive organisations like these opens up even more resources and support for our members.

It is so rewarding to be part of the SIP Careers Outreach programme and see the development of the SIP Ambassadors.

As Danny commented: 

“[Since completing the Ambassador training] I certainly feel better equipped and more confident to deliver events, and the resources you can access make things a lot easier, but I think more people need to know that this type of support is available.  […] I’d like others to know the full range of career options out there, how a STEM career can be so rewarding and that there are a different career entry routes available.” 

It is more critical than ever that we innovate science careers outreach. We urgently need to meet sector and societal demands, however, outcomes such as Danny’s make me feel very positive. This passion for science careers will help inspire the next generation to become the future work- force and help the UK to become a science superpower by 2025, and I am really optimistic about what the future holds for our industry.

Rachel Brickell, Careers Manager at Cogent Skills

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