Form the Future: Making STEM accessible to all
Form the Future's Launchpad programme is all about STEM subjects
Most of us like to do a bit of planning in advance for Christmas, but Form the Future’s Molly Askham is used to taking that to extremes.
“I studied STEM subjects at A-Level but then went into procurement with a chain of garden centres sourcing Christmas goods,” she says.
“We would do our first Christmas buy in December for the following year, so before one Christmas had happened we’d already be thinking about the next one, using data we had to back up our decisions about which lines would be popular.”
Molly’s focus has since switched from the future of retail to the future of work. She is part of the team at Form the Future, an organisation helping young people connect with employers and explore potential future career opportunities, and heads up its Launchpad programme, which focuses on careers in STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – subjects.
“We are aiming to make STEM accessible to all, break down some of the stereotypes around the industry and inspire the next generation into STEM careers,” she explains.
“We do that through a range of hands-on activities, usually at our industry partners’ site, to give the students a bit of a feel of how what they do at school relates to real world situations.
Form the Future's Molly Askham
“The main thing for schools is that it’s a completely free programme, and we see that their students come back more engaged with their lessons. During the day they have access to professionals within the industry at varying stages of their careers, and who have had different pathways, and that gives them a rounded picture of how you can get into these industries. They also get to try out some equipment that wouldn’t necessarily get access to in the classroom.”
Open to young people in school years four-12, Launchpad was founded by Cambridge engineering firm Marshall Group, and Form the Future took over the running of the scheme in 2017. It receives financial backing from four founding industry partners – Marshall, Arm, Schlumberger and The Technology Partnership – while many other firms from the thriving Cambridge tech cluster are active participants.
“We work with lot of engineering and life sciences companies, and we do a lot of stuff around coding with businesses like Microsoft and Amazon,” says Molly, who has been with Form the Future since last February. Every company brings their own volunteers, and we try and encourage early stage professionals, whether that be through a career change or because they just graduated or finished an apprenticeship, because students tend to be able to relate to them.”
Over 6,000 students in the Greater Cambridge area took part in Launchpad last year. This year the scheme has extended its reach, and plans are afoot to make an even greater impact in 2019/20.
Molly says: “It’s a great chance for the companies to reach the next generation. The skills gap is such a massive issue and there’s still work to be done, particularly when it comes to getting students to study STEM subjects at A-Level, as there’s quite a big drop-off after GCSE.”
“Last year a couple of students from our Year 12 group went back to companies they’d visited on project days for work experience.”
“There are a lot of stereotypes around STEM, that those subjects are only for people who are really brainy, and we’re trying to break down those barriers and show that it is accessible for all.”
On a personal level, Molly is delighted to have found a role where she can make a difference
“I didn’t go to university, and at the time when I was thinking about what I wanted to do next there were so many options available, but you don’t necessarily know about them all,” she says. “I think having someone to inspire you can go a long way to helping make the right choices. I completely get the confusion a lot of young people feel about what they should do next.
“I like having a job where I can help people. Students remember you, what they did on their day, and seeing some of them, particularly the older ones, saying our events really changed their way of thinking about what they might do in future is a great feeling.”
Certainly a more valuable gift than most given at Christmas.
Form the Future is looking for more industry partners to support the work of Launchpad. Anyone interested in finding out more about the scheme can email Molly on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.cambridge-launchpad.com.
For more information on Form the Future and its other programmes, see www.formthefuture.org.uk.