A plucky way to network quickly

8th February 2013 at 00:00
Speed dating has provided the inspiration for new-style STEM careers events. Jackie Cosh sits in the hot seat

You have eight minutes to find out about the person sitting across from you. There is a list of suggested questions on the desk to get you started. But after that, it is up to you.

Conversation is always a bit stilted to start with, but with a few prompts things soon relax and conversation flows. Welcome to speed networking - the careers event for the 21st century.

"What subjects did you like at school?" asks 14-year-old Connor Sheavan, who wants to be a fitness instructor. "How did you get into your job?"

Schedules are tight. Over the course of the afternoon, all the third-year pupils at St Modan's High in Stirling will get the chance to speak to five ambassadors for eight minutes at a time.

Global Science has arranged for 25 of its STEM ambassadors to come to this speed networking event to help pupils find out about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but also to encourage them to think about the future.

Andrew Gould is managing director of a project management renewables company, but started off in the Royal Navy before studying at the University of Glasgow. He stresses to Connor and his classmate Daniel Murphy that this is career number five, and talks about his time abroad.

"Do what you enjoy doing," he tells them. "Play to your strengths."

On the next table is Gillian Grey, a reader in cardiovascular pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh. "When you were younger, what did you want to do?" Connor and Daniel ask her.

"I didn't know," she admits. After explaining what her job involves, she gives the boys some good advice: "Find something you enjoy. Be as ambitious as you can. Try and find someone who does what you want to do and ask them for advice."

Kevin McKeever, along with his business partner and dad Frank McKeever, has run 10-20 speed networking events. The idea took off after a pilot event at St Mungo's High in Falkirk in June 2011, where all the local high schools took part.

"We've had schools say to us that they would never go back to traditional career events again," Mr McKeever says. "The good thing about it is it can be scaled up or down. One school wanted S2 and S3 pupils, so it was bigger. Queensferry High wanted to encourage more females into engineering, so we sourced as many female engineers as we could.

"The reason is to raise aspirations of young people in STEM," he explains. "For schools, one of the attractive things is that we put them (the ambassadors) through their PVG (protecting vulnerable groups accreditation), and STEMNET provides them with insurance.

"There is a very good age range - from 17 to 79. They come from all walks of life - from pupils to apprentices to managing directors, and nearly 50 per cent of our ambassadors are female."

Hannah Griffiths, 14, has already decided that she wants to be a doctor, but she still got a lot from the event. "It was good hearing about the different options and the different paths to take," she says. "It was useful hearing what people are interested in and how they managed to achieve their goals and ambitions."

Her friend, Alice Gornell, 14, is interested in studying languages, but is also considering midwifery. "I used the structure of the question sheet, but once I found out more about the person's career I asked my own questions. I got told to work hard, stick in and don't just do what everyone else is thinking you should do."

As the pupils file out of the gym hall, Irene Hales, head of maths, gets their feedback. "They have been invigorated," she says. "I got them focused beforehand. I spoke to them all and asked: 'When will you get a chance to speak to five adults about their careers?' They were so excited. As they left the hall, I have had comments such as: 'Miss, it is amazing the different jobs people do' to 'I've learned so much' or 'It is great to talk - not school talk'."

"Traditional careers events still have their place," Mr McKeever says. "But young people have said they would like this to be an annual event. It gives them quality engagement with a real person in a real job and the chance to ask questions.

"You can see the reaction sometimes - 'So you qualified in chemistry and now you are doing something different?' It is all about transferable skills. There is no job for life nowadays."

One ambassador, Mr Gould, has been on a mission today, having just read about the engineering skills gap in a professional journal.

"Often it goes in families," he says. "My father was an engineer and my grandfather before him. My two sons are also engineers. But for families where that is not the case, we need to try and change the succession."

www.global-science.netroute-into-employment-resources Frank McKeever, tel 07595 512418.


Global Science manages the STEM Advisory Network and the STEM Ambassador Programme for STEMNET, Scotland East Region, which includes 92 high schools and about 600 primaries, as well as independent schools in Falkirk, Stirling, Clackmannanshire, Fife, Edinburgh, West Lothian, East Lothian, Midlothian and Borders.

Funded by the Westminster government's Business, Innovation and Skills department, its remit is to support schools in delivering the STEM curriculum with industry experts.

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