By Liz Hodge, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Science Centre
As a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) educator, the highlight of Offshore Europe for me is OPITO’s Energise Your Future event, where energy companies meet local school pupils to inspire the next generation to join the sector.
With OPITO’s recent skills landscape report outlining the need for an additional 10,000 people in the industry by 2025, with around 4,500 in roles that currently don’t exist, the event is a chance for companies to explain future roles and routes into the sector to those on the cusp of making career decisions.
I hope the young people attending this year will be encouraged to pursue a career in the industry, perhaps in one of the new roles outlined in OPITO’s report that demand expertise in low carbon energy, data science, artificial intelligence, robotics or cyber security.
However, the focus shouldn’t just be on influencing those mature enough to wear school uniforms.
I believe the industry needs to ensure it engages with children as young as three, who will be in primary school by 2025 and, with the correct engagement, aware of the implication of STEM skills and their role in different sectors and the career opportunities they can lead to.
At Aberdeen Science Centre (ASC), we have three-year old children using coding, programming and robots to build these critical skills early as part of our Digital Futures partnership with energy company Equinor.
This three-year collaboration to support STEM education and the digital transformation was borne out of both organisations mutual desire to promote STEM in an inspiring and fun way that would capture imaginations and excite young people.
One activity involves using ‘codapillars’ – cute caterpillar shaped moving toys. The Hungry Caterpillar book is read aloud, with the children tasked to ‘code’ the creatures to travel in the right direction to retrieve the food in the story.
Three-year-olds don’t need to know they’re using coding. They just need to have fun and can absorb subtle messages about how the skills they’re using are applied in other roles, especially if these messages are delivered by a STEM ambassador, such as a data analyst, who applies the skills in their role.
We could have linked with a university and offered students the chance to do pure coding – but if you don’t have a background of doing something from an early age then it’s difficult to know if you want to develop those skills.
What we are trying to do at ASC, in collaboration with companies like Equinor, is show the relevance of STEM by anticipating which future skills are required in industry and demonstrate how young people are already using these skills at home and at school.
The science centre is currently in temporary accommodation to ensure we can continue to engage with and inspire children and young people.
As we look ahead to the opening of the transformed Aberdeen Science Centre at the Tramsheds in spring 2020, we are committed to working with industry to ensure the centre is a place where children of all ages will leave inspired, wanting to know even more about the STEM opportunities available.
That way, by the time they attend OE they will have developed a lifelong interest in STEM, having been involved with it since they were a toddler, and be completely primed and aware of the vast opportunities the skills can offer, within the energy sector and beyond.