The Town Hall in Haywards Heath was buzzing with excitement last Wednesday (October 11), as students got top tips from engineering and technology experts.
It was the official launch of The STEM Challenge – a competition in Mid Sussex to inspire the next generation.
Year 9 students from Warden Park Secondary Academy, Oathall Community College and St Paul’s Catholic College will be provided with an ordinary bicycle and a brief to build an electric bicycle using a component kit.
Chairman of Haywards Heath Town Team, Ruth de Mierre, who is behind the initiative, said the objective is to spark a life-time interest in the STEM subjects – science technology, engineering and mathematics – generating an increase in skills in the area.
Martin Strutt, South East director of the EEF (Engineering Employer Federation), officially opened the launch and said he was ‘delighted’ to be there.
He said: “Manufacturing is a really important part of the economy, it is important we get a lot of fresh blood. We are delighted to see young people take such an interest and we hope this encourages them. My very best of luck to all three teams.”
Seeing everyone in this room today it is going to be bigger than I thought.Ben Carter, science teacher at Warden Park Secondary Academy
The students will receive support from the Burrell Road ACTION Group, whose members include engineering and medical employers.
They have joined forces with schools and colleges, together with Tomorrow’s Engineers and STEM Sussex, to pilot the challenge which, if successful, could be rolled out across West Sussex.
Ben Carter, a science teacher at Warden Park Secondary Academy, said the initiative was going to be ‘bigger’ than he thought.
“We are really excited to be taking part. It is a really good opportunity for these kids,” he said.
“To see so many people who have got involved in the community is really exciting. We have had a battle of the sexes too, the girls are adamant they are going to beat the boys! Seeing everyone in this room today it is going to be bigger than I thought.”
Toby Houghton, deputy head teacher at Oathall Community College and Pete Robinson, lead teacher and head of faculty, said they were ‘very excited’ about the competition.
“We have two teams involved and we have a great balance of boys and girls,” they said.
“It is great to see that they are interested and motivated in what they are doing. They are all winners in our eyes.”
Rob Carter, headteacher at St Paul’s Catholic College, compared the challenge to The Apprentice which has just returned to our screens on BBC One and told students the challenge was a ‘really good opportunity for them’.
Each of the companies involved will provide a STEM ambassador to work with the schools as well as bring them into the workplace to put their STEM learning in context.
With the help of Lloyds Bank, the students will prepare a Business and Marketing Plan as, when completed, the winning electric bike will be available for sale – having been fully tested for EU compliance and legal road use.
Companies involved include Flowserve, PSM Marine Engineering, Nuffield Hospital and Bike Smart.
Nick Green of Flowserve said the initative was about ‘encouraging youngsters’.
“We are often looking at young people to join our organisation. There is 30,000 opportunities a year for children to go into engineering – one in three at least,” he said.
“Who wouldn’t want to be given the tools and equipment to produce an electric bike!”
John Bullivant, GM and business leader for PSM Instrumentation Ltd, said he was ‘very happy’ to be involved.
“We do a lot of recruitment for apprenticeships and we are hoping that someone in this room is the future,” he added.
Peter Karmios and Jeff Pullen from Bike Smart presented an assembled electric bike at the launch and said it was clear they were ‘a way of the future’.
“The beauty is it is a standard bike, but it has been innovated,” they said.
“You can cycle 20 miles before it needs to be recharged. Peddaling might be hard in school but the power kicks in when you start to pedal.
“You hit the go switch and you have yourself an electric bike.”
Bronagh Liddicoat, employer support manager of Tomorrow’s Engineers at Brighton University. said engineering skills were ‘needed’.
“In the South East, engineering accounts for 34 per cent of turnover, £248 billion, but recent research shows we will need 299,000 engineering skills by 2024 – that’s 29,900 a year,” she said.
“In 2017, there are 100,107 14 year olds in education so we need to inspire one third of them to take this route!
“By working with employers, providing challenging and investigative projects with the support of STEM role models to give guidance and share career paths, we can showcase the diversity and rewards of such a career.”
The initiative is also supported by West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC).
Councillor Pete Bradbury from WSCC said the launch of the initiative in Mid Sussex was ‘urgently needed’.
“Local companies tell us they cannot recruit sufficient engineers, scientists, technologists for their businesses and we need to inspire more young people to focus on STEM subjects at school and university,” he added.
Councillor Jonathan Ash-Edwards, MSDC cabinet member for Resources and Economic Growth, said it was ‘fantastic’ to see so many students getting involved.
“If our district is to continue to have a strong economy, it is essential young people have the skills which businesses and employers will need. Well done to Haywards Heath Town Team for the initiative,” he said.
Chairman of Haywards Heath Town Team, Ruth de Mierre, thanked everyone for coming along: “May I thank you all, students and teachers (Pete, Ben and Harriet) alike, for coming today and being part of something special,” she said.
“As you know, we’re hoping this will also be the beginning of a project which will roll out across the district, the county, the South East and then, of course tomorrow, the world!
“My thanks to EEF’S Martin Strutt for coming to launch us officially and to STEM’s Bronagh Liddicoat who has been such a support to us. We’re also grateful to WSCC and MSDC for their help and interest in the project.
“But, more importantly, this would never have got off the ground without the amazing enthusiasm, dedication and sheer hard work of our Town Team companies and STEM ambassadors, so a big thank you.
“Quite seriously, you are all quite amazing and I am in total awe of your knowledge, brain power and technical ability. And I would love it if, one day, Mid Sussex might become known throughout the wider world as the nucleus of STEM and home of next Richard Henderson maybe?”
The finished products and business plans will be judged in March at a presentation and award ceremony.