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'The rewards of working with young people'

25 May 2020

In the last of our series, two STEM Ambassadors explain the professional and personal benefits of working with young people and why, even in the face of personal grief and loss, they’ll keep promoting the profession.

'The rewards of working with young people'
STEM Ambassadors Joanna Bateman and Frances Ratcliffe

Joanna Bateman is an Assistant Engineer at WSP and ICE North West’s STEM Ambassador of the Year.

"I have absolute addiction to a moment. It’s the moment I have a young person walk away from me after we’ve talked about civil engineering having learnt something new. As engineering is not something the curriculum focuses on, many young people don’t know what civil engineering is, or if they have heard of it then it’s usually a very limited understanding.

I love when I’m in a school, youth group or in a careers event and the young person in front of me doesn’t know anything about engineering because that moment when they walk away from me and I know I’ve taught them something new and they have a better understanding of how engineers impact every aspect of their day, that is a great high. It’s what I’m hooked on about being a STEM ambassador.

What we can achieve

"While the dream would be all young people walk away from me thinking “I’d love to be a civil engineer!” the reality is, they’re not. So within my ‘sales pitch’ of the industry I don’t just focus on engineering jobs, but rather show them the skills an engineer has.

If you say to a young person “engineers use creativity to solve problems” they might not consider themselves as being creative or much of a problem solver. I like to show them they can be.

Joanna highlights the benefits of teamwork, communication and support as skills for young people
Joanna highlights the benefits of teamwork, communication and support as skills for young people

"Based on ICE’s tetrahedron kit, I made my own mini version that goes in a backpack with me to careers fairs. I ask those I speak with to work alone or as a team to build small tetrahedron, but I don’t show them how, I just support and suggest ideas to aid them.

It’s always incredible to see them persevere and their pride when they achieve it. It’s a great opportunity to highlight how teamwork, communication and supporting others are skills that make a well-rounded engineer.

"By highlighting to them the transferable skills they are demonstrating, I’m able to give everyone some useful careers advice to take away with them even if I don’t sway them from their other dream vocations. I like to think everyone I engage with goes away with something helpful and they certainly all go away with at least one new fact about civil engineering.

Giving us resilience

"I’ve been a STEM ambassador for five years now and over the time built up a fantastic network of contacts, many now friends, who I regularly engage and work with. I am very passionate about partaking in STEM events and promoting engineering and last year that helped me through a very challenging time. I sadly miscarried a baby and it was a difficult time for me. Having STEM activities to focus on and having the support of so many wonderful people in the STEM outreach community made the grieving process a little easier for me.

"Another positive that came out of being open about my loss was how many colleagues spoke about their own losses with me. With one in four pregnancies ending in baby loss, it is something that affects many of our colleagues in engineering, and it’s not only women that baby loss affects.

"There’s very little that stops me attending STEM events. Two days before my wedding I cancelled a hair cut so could I give a talk in a school. I’ve delivered workshops with my newborn son when he was 5 weeks old and this year I was 36 weeks pregnant at my last careers events before lockdown began. When I’m asked “what will stop you going into schools?” I can now say “it will take the government to close them!”

"I’ve taken a few weeks away from STEM outreach following the arrival of my daughter born at the end of March, but I’m now very much looking forward to working with students again from June as I’ve arranged to join up with a secondary school from home. It will take more than a global pandemic to stop me preaching the joy of civil engineering!

Frances Ratcliffe leads the Bridges and Structures team at Fife Council and is ICE Scotland’s STEM Ambassador of the Year

"I fell into being a STEM Ambassador purely by accident and fell in love with it. Many years ago (probably about 15), after getting a bit of experience under my belt, I was thinking of sitting my Professional Review but my engagement in ICE activities was a little bit light, to say the least, at the time. An opportunity arose to take part in a local careers event, building paper bridges with school children to promote engineering. I thought it would look good on my experience record, so I went along, and the seeds were sown.

"Then I took part in a Rapid Response Challenge and a Bridges to Schools event. It was all about promoting engineering. I don’t think the term STEM Ambassador existed then! I became Chartered in 2006 but continued my involvement in school events here and there, but felt a little bit like a lone voice trying to promote engineering to an audience that wasn’t ready to listen.

"I joined the ICE Dundee Area (now Tayside and Fife) Branch Committee in 2007 and eventually ended up chairing that. During that time, STEM just exploded! Suddenly institutions wanted to promote it, schools wanted to engage with it, and organisations popped up to bring the two together.

Addressing the challenges

"Around the same time, the lack of women in engineering was attracting a lot of attention within the industry and the looming skills shortages were becoming evident. So, as a female engineer, I felt duty bound to get out there and be a role model for girls considering engineering. But I also wanted to ensure every child knew there was a route into engineering for them.

"To be honest, I took a bit of convincing that girls lack of pursuit of engineering was related to nurture, rather than nature, until a few incidents changed my mind. The first related to a Bridges to Schools event my colleagues and I arranged. While examining the list of classes that were attending, we noticed the number of kids from one class seemed abnormally low. When we contacted the class teacher to ask why, he said he was only sending the boys!

"On another occasion, a girl at a careers fair said “I’d really like to be an engineer, but my mum said it’s not a job for a girl”. So, I came realise, the playing field wasn’t quite as level as I has assumed it was.

Frances works with children from pre-school right up to undergraduate students
Frances works with children from pre-school right up to undergraduate students

"In 2017 I became the first female Chair of ICE Scotland and felt even more desire to get my face out there while I had the impressive title to inspire the girls with. Though this wasn’t an easy task while juggling the demands of the role with my full-time job and a family.

What we can do

"Over the years, I have taken part in and lead numerous kinds of activities including Rapid Response challenge, Bridges to Schools, careers evenings, parents evenings, classroom talks, hands on workshops such as the Big Bang Fair and Girls into Engineering and Science Fairs.

"I have worked with children from pre-school right up to undergraduate students. How do you introduce engineering to pre-school children? In the messiest way possible – in my case with lots and lots of jelly and Duplo!

"I have encouraged many of my colleagues, and others I have worked with, to become STEM Ambassadors and I am a trained Bridges to Schools leader. I have also engaged with community groups having recently delivered Bridges to school at a Scout Camp.

"In recent years I have been supporting Pitteuchar Primary school who are one of the pilot schools for the Institution of Primary Engineers scheme. I sit on their IPrimE committee within the school to offer suggestions on how they may develop their school activities. I also provide a linkage with industry and have set up other contacts to help them with activities. This is great because the long-term nature of it means you actually get to witness the impact of your work.

"I have also learned that social background can have an impact on those entering the industry. Following a visit to one local school, one of the teachers said to me she was very grateful for my visit because “this is one of the most deprived schools in the area and the kids don’t get many opportunities to see what they can aspire to”. Young people tend to be influenced by what their parents or extended family do and often don’t have an opportunity to see what great opportunities are out there.

Frances Ratcliffe with Graduate Apprentice Jenna Brown
Frances Ratcliffe with Graduate Apprentice Jenna Brown

"If I had to pick something I am most proud of, it would be leading the introduction of Graduate Level Apprenticeships into my workplace. I feel this is a great opportunity for kids to get into engineering, particularly those whose financial circumstances may not have allowed them to attend university full time. Saying that many of those enrolled are mature students.

"This has also led to me to engage with Skills Development Scotland in the promotion of apprenticeships and the Scottish Government Improvement Service in promoting Careers in Roads Services. Earlier this year I spoke at a Cross Party Group at the Scottish Parliament on the subject of graduate apprenticeships.

"Year after year I am finding new ways to engage in promoting engineering careers. I’ve always said this is my legacy. I’ll probably never be a famous engineer responsible for an iconic structure, my projects are relatively modest. But perhaps, with those modest projects, I will inspire a child who grows up to be that famous engineer."

Read more on Frances' work as a mentor

Related links

If you would like to join Joanna and Frances in inspiring the next generation of civil engineers you can join for free as an ICE STEM Ambassador through the STEM Learning website.

  • Kathryn Denham-Maccioni, digital engagement manager at ICE