Maintaining pupil interest in STEM subjects

Inspiring educators in the oil and gas industry

Maintaining pupil interest in STEM subjects, especially among girls, is of vital importance to industries like oil and gas. OPITO, the skills organisation for the oil and gas industries, believes that common misconceptions and a lack of awareness about careers in the sector are holding back the next generation of STEM talent.

Studies have shown that when young people start secondary school, just as many girls as boys have positive attitudes toward science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and careers. From there however this interest wanes, particularly among girls.

For industries like oil and gas which rely on a sustainable pipeline of STEM talent, finding ways to inspire, attract and retain young people’s interests in these critical subjects is an increasingly important part of their work.  

OPITO works closely with its education partners, academia and the industry with a focus on developing new and exciting concepts to engage with schools, parents and pupils to tackle the sector’s requirements for the future generation.

John McDonald, managing director of OPITO UK, said: “Many young people don’t know the best place to start researching to find out about the types of roles within this sector which will match their interests and subject choices. For our industry, which plays a significant role in the UK’s continued economic prosperity, this can have a potentially damaging impact on our ability to secure the workforce of the future.

“OPITO has established several successful initiatives across the UK to support teachers, students and parents and help inform them about the opportunities that exist within the oil and gas industry whilst at the same time dispelling some of the myths surrounding the sector.”

These perceptions include the thinking that all careers involve working offshore wearing boiler suits and hard hats, that it is dirty and physical work – and an industry dominated by men.

McDonald continued: “The impact of these incorrect beliefs is that young people may not necessarily think about the huge number of career opportunities which are open to them in the oil and gas industry. More than 90 per cent of positions within the sector are based onshore including lawyers, accountants, geologists, petroleum engineers, HR and admin personnel.

“Whilst it is a cyclical industry with peaks and troughs of activity, the action that we and others are taking now is aimed at safeguarding the next generation of talented individuals. Understanding the critical role educators play in that and working in partnership with teachers and education groups sits at the heart of our strategy.”

Pipeline of information
Feedback from teachers, career advisors and course tutors has shown that hands-on experience of industries like oil and gas can be invaluable in helping understand how what is delivered in the classroom translates to different careers.

Most have no hands-on experience of working in the oil and gas industry and do not feel confident about explaining to pupils why their learning is relevant to a future in the industry. In response to this OPITO staged the inaugural Pipeline of Information initiative last month (November). Teachers, career advisors and educational support organisations from across Norfolk, Suffolk and Hertfordshire attended a series of events hosted by five companies in Great Yarmouth and Norwich to help them find out about the range of skills needed by employers.   

As well as getting the chance to hear direct from companies including Seajacks, Petrofac, Gardline Geosurvey, Proeon and Proserv, participants got the chance to board an offshore support vessel and view a geophysical laboratory.

McDonald said: “We targeted our efforts towards teachers and career advisors instead of pupils for this initiative as teachers are the core influencers in the future of the next generation, so it is imperative that they understand more about the routes into the industry.

“These events told the oil and gas story from different perspectives, showing the breadth of opportunity that is out there for young people. It not only raised the awareness of the employment opportunities across the most prominent sectors, it also highlighted the opportunities across the UK and worldwide.  

“Many young people are still unaware of the diversity the sector offers them in terms of career choices. Visitors were inspired by those already working in the sector and saw first-hand how STEM subjects could impact on future career choices.”

Powering the future generation
Another initiative OPITO is supporting to increase the understanding for teachers, parents and students from across the UK, opened this month (December) at the Glasgow Science Centre. The £1.5 million ‘Powering the Future’ exhibition showcases a series of more than 60 thought provoking interactive exhibits highlighting the innovation and engineering excellence within the industry.

The exhibition will be a focal point of the Centre’s education programme acting as a powerful engagement tool to help inform people of the wide range of rewarding careers available within the sector both at home and abroad. As well as the exhibits there are a range of workshops carefully aligned with the experiences and outcomes of the Curriculum for Excellence and National Qualification Stages.

Dr Stephen Breslin, chief executive of Glasgow Science Centre, said: “On average, pupils are less likely at present to choose STEM subjects and careers. The Centre’s ambition to bring STEM to life and demonstrate the many real and varied careers that are available is echoed throughout this exhibition. It provides a valuable opportunity for the sector to engage directly with young people, employers, schools and colleges to ensure they have the choices and opportunities to fulfil their career potential.”

McDonald added: “If we are trying to open the eyes and minds of our young people and give them an appreciation of why STEM subjects are important, bringing the industry to life in this way will go a long way to also giving parents and educators a deeper understanding of the important role the energy sector plays and the diverse range of careers it encompasses.”

Energising young people
Its collaborative approach is already reaping rewards. OPITO has experienced ongoing support from schools and colleges across the UK with more than 11,500 students attending its Energise Your Future (EYF) events since 2006.

McDonald comments: “We can all appreciate how difficult it can be to keep abreast of the current work trends and potential career options for students thirsty to find out more. I believe this is why we have had such a successful uptake to these events over the years. By bringing together senior school students with firms exhibiting at industry conferences who match up with their potential career interests, it provides a perfect opportunity for them to ask personnel directly about entry routes as well as finding out more about the different firms. They are also given the chance to try out a range of interactive activities designed to highlight the range of dynamic careers on offer.”

At previous EYF events across the UK, which also includes dates at Great Yarmouth College for students from across London, Norfolk and Sussex, students have tried their hand at activities such as operating underwater robots, using a virtual reality arc welder, and watching practical demonstrations of oil and gas extraction and drilling operations.

Last year saw the launch of the industry’s Oil & Gas Skills Navigator, a central repository connecting and consolidating all current skills information and activities which is being used by teachers, higher education groups, and those looking for training information about the oil and gas industry.

The need for greater constructive collaboration was highlighted in the government commissioned Wood Review conducted by the highly respected oil and gas industry leader, Sir Ian Wood.

McDonald concluded: “A key element to ensuring the industry’s ongoing success will be the level of communication and support from teachers and educational support staff to ensure our industry is better understood by a wider audience. Only by working together can we kick start a desire in the next generation to continue building on the heritage of the last 50 years of the North Sea and beyond.”

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