Polymermedics employees Lauren Tregilgas (Human Resources Manager) and Graham Robinson (Business Development Manager) joined the Polymer Ambassadors Scheme. Polymer Ambassadors are trained to use an engaging plastic experiments kit that has a set of five experiments that show how different types of polymers have important features that are used in our everyday lives. The aim of the scheme that is run jointly by the British Plastics Federation and Plastics Europe, is to raise the awareness about the plastic industry and its opportunities for a younger generation. Continue to read to find out why Lauren and Graham grabbed the opportunity to teach children and discover the importance of this initiative for our industry.
The fields of engineering and science lack young professionals, while the demand for them is growing exponentially. The past century has brought immense growth to many industries. To consider, only the polymer industry has seen an unprecedented rise in the demand for the end-use markets, such as packaging, automotive, infrastructure, transport rails, and telecommunication mainly from emerging economies. The challenges of such improvement are visible as never before; plastics companies struggle to find the people that could fill the roles of the future. Based on a survey held by the British Plastics Federation (BPF), around 46% of the plastics industry encounter problems while on the lookout for new team members, and almost 20% of these difficult-to-recruit-for roles are apprenticeships. And such a problem is relevant in many industries across the board. A very few among the young generation after the age of 16 prefer to study the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and this fact got many governments and organisations concerned for the future.
Hence, the Department of Education & Professional Studies at King’s College in London have conducted the “Aspires” research to learn about young people’s science and career aspirations. The detailed findings can be found here. However, a key discovery in our point of view is that the researchers have found that families exert a considerable influence on students’ aspirations. The ‘science capital’ present in a student’s family is what matters most when it comes to affecting the likelihood of aspiring to a science-related career by the age of 14.
Qualification, understanding, knowledge, interest and knowing someone in the science-related fields generally can be referred to as science capital. Many young people and their parents are not aware of the diverse career paths that may be taken from a science-related education, which is directly attributable to a lack of science capital. This view limits them to believe that science qualifications will primarily result in a job as a scientist, science teacher or doctor. Such a stance leads many young people seeing science qualifications as not actually relevant for them. It stands to reason that the young people who do aspire to STEM-related careers or plan to study science after the age of 16 are those who are aware of how science qualifications are transferable to a multitude of fields and industries.
“The ‘science capital’ present in a student’s family is what matters most when it comes to affecting the likelihood of aspiring to a science-related career by the age of 14”
That is the very reason that led to the creation of the Polymer Ambassadors initiative, where children can get to meet and work with specialists in the industry. The goal of the project is to help students to get a clearer understanding of how science qualifications could be applied in their future career. The initiative hopes to encourage young people to consider STEM as subjects to study, by closing the so-called skills gap. Who knows, they may even decide to subsequently pursue careers in the polymer industry! The main course of action has been directed at inspiring youth through proper education and mentorship. Lauren shared her thoughts about the current state of things: “I feel it is important that people and companies give back to and support the communities they are part of. As professionals in the field, it is our responsibility to change the sloping down curve to an exponentially growing trend for STEM industries. Schools are in desperate need of businesses that support and inspire their students, while we, in turn, get professional prospects for the industry”.
For our local community in Cornwall, such initiative fits perfectly because there is a shortage of skilled candidate in the South West, which is a serious concern for the growth of polymer industries. It also affects our ability to recruit the right employee to the business. In some cases, it means role go unfilled or must use consultants. We need experienced and skilled people to come into the business to help support and develop our internal talent pool. As much as with a certain degree of desire and hard work, anyone with any background can become part of this industry. For example, Lauren herself joined this field with a background in a food business. But, at Polymermedics she was motivated to test and learn from trial and error: “Working for a medical injection moulding company meant the organisation invests heavily in the training and development of its employee. I personally have been supported and have gone from no formal qualifications to obtaining a Masters in Human Resource Management thanks to the support and development opportunities given to me at Polymermedics”.
So what led Lauren and Graham to join the scheme? Lauren decided to take part in the programme due to her own unsatisfying experience: the career information that she received in school was very poor and left her confused and unsure of the options. Now, she sees herself inspiring young people who are in the same shoes as she once was. That is why, she had already worked as an Enterprise Advisor going into local secondary schools, helping students to understand the different employment opportunities available to them. “But at some point, I felt that it’s important to start inspiring children from a younger age, so I needed more tools to support the school. Moreover, working within manufacturing, which is a male-dominated industry, I want to inspire girls to join professions that have historically been dominated by men,” Lauren says.
“Schools are in desperate need of businesses that support and inspire their students, while we, in turn, get professional prospects for the industry”
Graham, on the other hand, was inspired through an experience which was quite similar to that of the Polymer Ambassador scheme: “I did a traditional apprenticeship, where I was introduced to all the complexities and variety of skills required. There were lots of exciting problems to solve and lots of new technology to test, and I have learnt something new every day. And… got to play with some really expensive machinery with cutting-edge technology to make lots of cool things, met influential people that have great ideas that change our lives. I have been in plastics for 30 years and now it is my turn to show other people what a good career it is. It is important for me to understand how to pass my knowledge on to young people, to understand the different age groups, their perceptions about plastics and Ambassadors Scheme could really help with it”.
Polymer Ambassadors are meant to visit interested schools and give an introduction to plastics and its many amazing properties. The Polymer Ambassador scheme is a training programme that provides the future Polymer Ambassadors with the information necessary to do just that. During the training, some hot topics were raised, for example, the environmental impact of the plastic industry. There is a wide range of uses for polymers that are having a positive impact on the environment and are helping to clean and improve the environment, such as water filtration systems. Yet, it is usually the damage from the poor waste management gets the highest publicity. At the same time, a vast amount of everyday items have plastics in them. Therefore, it’s very important for a business to go in and engage with young children from an early age, explaining what opportunities plastics brings and empathize its responsible usage.
After the programmes, the participants gain an in-depth understanding of how to work with young people and are able to develop own brief action plan of next steps. Taking those steps today will secure a successful and prosperous future for the society and the private sector.
“It’s very important for a business to go in and engage with young children from an early age, explaining what opportunities plastics brings and empathize its responsible usage”
Polymer Ambassadors will be armed with an endless list of resources made available via Polymer Zone and the “Olly’s Cool Box of Plastics” – a toolkit of experiments to demonstrate some of the key properties of plastics, provided by Plastics Europe. At the Polymer Zone volunteers could find over 50 videos (which cover main topics regarding the plastic industry, from how the plastics are made to the chemistry and recycling), lessons plans with presentations and the library with a mix of resources for further study. Olly’s Cool Box of Plastics, in turn, contains the materials and specific “tools” in the quantities needed for 5 different experiments to be performed. All experiments have different purposes and could give the answers to the plastic-related questions in a simple and fun way. The experiments explain how plastic and foam plastic could be produced, how similar looking plastics could have different properties and different applications, show water absorbance capacity of plastic compared to other materials and even create a pocket-sized sewage plant. Each Ambassador was given such a kit at the end of the day and had the option to donate the kit to the school they visit.
Regardless of age, the Polymer Ambassadors Program helps connect young people with academic and business instances, all the while providing the necessary means for successful communication and an enhanced sense of their career aspirations. The program has been built around the idea to have students face with the real-world hands-on experience from successful and inspiring professionals in the industry like Lauren and Graham. They now are joining a nationwide scheme supporting in excess of 30,000 ambassadors entering schools to discuss science, engineering and maths.
“Show them it’s fun!”
But there is even more to come. Graham and Lauren plan on connecting the local schools in the area to see how best they can help them. Lauren says: “With Roseland academy head of Maths, we are planning to get students excited about challenging their skills and leading them to understand the need for higher skills in the area Maths within the business work. In cooperation with Roseland career advisors, we will organize sessions around what employees are looking for when recruiting young people as well as workshops on CV/resume writing and interview skills.”
Lauren and Graham also came up with a project that will ask students to suggest their ideas on alternative solutions/usage for company’s plastic waste (currently all polymers are set to be recycled, but Lauren is interested if the students can find some new uses for the waste).
Next on the schedule, a career event at Penrice Academy, which will inform younger people about the career possibilities within the sector. Finally, there will be various school events in 2019 to get students to learn about different career options available in Cornwall and the wide range of career opportunities available in the manufacturing field. At Polymermedics, we encourage workers like Lauren and Graham in taking the steps for achieving their long-term plans that can significantly impact our industry. “Show them it’s fun!”, guys.