Why we need to keep encouraging the next generation’s interest in STEM

24th September 2020 Posted by

As we near the end of Recycle Week 2020, we thank the country for continuing to recycle over the pandemic. For those of us who work in the recycling and resource management industry, it is also a time of immense pride as we reflect on how the thousands of key workers in our sector have worked to keep one of the country’s critical services running.

Ours is a sector that has changed beyond recognition over the last ten years and continues to be an exciting and ever evolving industry to work in, as most STEM based industries are.

Back in July 2020, I was speaking to one of my team Natalie Chard, one of our Senior Community Liaison Managers and a former primary and secondary school teacher. We reflected on how those of us who work in STEM roles or sectors fall in love with our chosen careers but that many children need encouragement to become interested in STEM subjects, believing them to either be ‘boring’ or themselves ‘not clever enough’.

Oliver Morrall, one of SUEZ’s Community Liaison Managers, showing students around our Energy from Waste facility in Suffolk

School trips and other outreach work helps bring STEM subjects to life and are critical in encouraging interest in STEM careers. Certainly, from my home schooling months, I can testify how much these subjects need to be brought to life. However, we know that even before Covid, interest in STEM subjects amongst secondary students was on the decline.

I interviewed Natalie for my earlier blog, How do we support STEM education and outreach work post Covid-19? when she stated: “ensuring that lessons are still engaging with Covid-19 restrictions in place will be another challenge. For example, a lot of Primary schools will organise a school trip for a particular topic to put the subject into context, ignite imagination and help the class gain a better understanding. However, with current circumstances, it is unlikely that school trips will happen at least during the first term, if not longer.”

And so, at a time when schools are working hard to catch children up and aren’t able to go for school trips, how do we encourage the next generation of recyclers and key workers without outreach?

Molly Bell, one of SUEZ’s engineers, promoting STEM careers to secondary school students’

At that time Natalie and my other community liaison managers were positive. “There is always a way,” they told me, “if you can’t bring children out of the classroom, maybe we can help bring STEM to life in the classroom.”

And so we did. In partnership with SUEZ’s Sustainability and Social Value Lead, Sarah Ottaway, we saw an opportunity to bring our knowledge and skills to the classroom during this period when students are unable to visit our facilities on trips or for work experience and schools are finding it difficult to undertake outreach work. I am immensely proud of the suite of free education resources we have developed for primary and secondary school students designed to support STEM learning.

We need to keep up the momentum. If you work in a STEM based industry, I encourage you to think about how you can give back at this time and help keep young people interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I strongly believe that companies who work in STEM based areas can do their bit to help. We love what we do, so let’s encourage those coming after us to have the same passion so that they can feel as proud as we do now.

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