‘School’s out for summer. School’s out forever. I’m bored to pieces…’ sang US rocker Alice Cooper as he attempted to bottle one the most exciting moments in a person’s life.
Mr Cooper may have not have been so vocal at the thought of a summer workshop on the basic principles of science and engineering, but the new initiative which will start in Donaghmore next week, is very bit as exciting as the promise of two long summer months of freedom.
The colourful ‘MEGA Streamtrain’ is rolling into the Torrent complex on Friday for the first of four workshops which will cover science, technology, arts, maths and engineering and open up a whole new window of opportunity to children as they make their journey through their education before they are faced with the all important career choices.
And local parents have jumped at the chance, with the whole course sold out in around 48 hours, with over 200 tickets sold for the workshops.
Spearheaded by MEGA (Manufacturing and Engineering Growth and Advancement) which was set up to attract and recruit more people into the burgeoning engineering sector in Mid Ulster – the workshops are the brainchild of Aisling Brady.
Aisling who is a parent and has previously worked with MEGA, said she had become acutely aware of how important it was to challenge concepts of engineering and STEM subjects, particularly among young girls.
She said she brought her idea to MEGA as they “will give this concept sustainability and an opportunity to scale up for more children to access projects like this locally here in Mid Ulster”.
Aisling continued, “As a parent in Mid Ulster – projects like this delivered locally make them more accessible for all – not everything new and futuristic should be kept for the big cities like Belfast and Derry.
“Parents are volunteering to help with the delivery on all four workshops. Parents want the best for their children and this opens the doors to helping parents understand a world they may not necessarily have been exposed to before.
“This is a chance for levelling up for our rural communities here in the future with children, with ambition and skills for the future.”
Elita Frid who is the Education and Industry Engagement Manager with MEGA said that by the time many children reach secondary education, it can be too late to change their perceptions of the STEM subjects.
“That’s why we are running this summer scheme from ages three (years old) to 12, so that when they go to secondary school, they will have familiarity with it. They will have enjoyed it and seen it as something fun and something hands on for them,” said Elita.
She said the authenticity of the workshops, will also help engage the pupils with the subjects.
“The whole concept is to make them (children) feel like the engineer, or the scientist, so we bring the lab coats and the hi-viz vests for them.”
Aisling said it was important that children are prepared for the rapidly changing jobs of the future.
“We want to try and inspire these kids, because we don’t know what the jobs of the future will be in ten years time, but what we do know is that STEM is going to be a really big part of it.”
Elita said the new summer workshops – which will not interfere with the educational curriculum – will help deliver vital hands-on skills.
“We keep hearing about these skills shortages, and looking at the local industry in Tyrone and Mid Ulster, it’s massively engineering, and if children aren’t getting that experience, it’s a huge disconnect between what students are learning and what the jobs are.
“If we want to keep our young people here, then we need to be training them up for the jobs that are here. Young people are often moving overseas, because they cannot find jobs in what they trained in.”
For Aisling, the message already seems to be getting through to some local parents. “The parents have really got this as well and that’s evident in the fact that it sold out in basically 48 hours and I think even parents that have children in secondary school realise that STEM is given such importance, but their kids have not been given any background to it, the kids haven’t been exposed to it.
“It has been all female parents, female teachers, yet it’s such a male dominated sector, so it’s encouraging to see women getting involved like this.”
Elita who took up her role with MEGA last year has already been connecting with local schools and has been organising successfull tours of some of the many huge engineering firms here in south Tyrone.
“Recently we have also started teacher tours, which we thought was a brilliant way to highlight and let teachers know what jobs are out there. It has been such an eye opener for them and the feedback has just been incredible. Some of them didn’t know that these massive crushing machines which are exported right across the world are being built right on their doorstep.
“It has been such a huge eye opener and it just shoes how disconnected education is from industry.”
She said the workshops will see the children gather together for practical projects. She continued, “We will have a chat about engineering, science or whichever the topic is that day.
“They will dress up in lab coats, or vests for the day and it’s not like a show, they will be actually getting stuck in and hands on.
“They will have to consider a problem, work together to find a solution and then move to designing their solution. They will be involved in producing their solution and testing it out.
“They will be involved in every stage of the engineering process of creating a product. And the same processes will also be used for the science workshops.
“There are so many jobs that are connected through these skills and the opportunities are endless.”
The MEGA network (Manufacturing & Engineering Growth & Advancement) was established in 2019 to advance and grow world-class manufacturing and engineering by attracting, developing and retaining people.
Their mission is to promote the manufacturing and engineering sector as a source of high-value, long-term employment and to create transformational career opportunities that deliver skills for life.
The summer workshops are the latest in a long line of innovative initiatives from MEGA.
They have already established the Industrial Training Centre (ITC) and associated welding academy in partnership with South West College (SWC), established the MEGA degree apprenticeship in partnership with University of Ulster (UU) Magee campus.
MEGA have raised £737,000 in additional investment in activities to support the manufacturing and engineering sector and they have also successfully completed the recruitment of 185 apprenticeship positions and 14 degree apprenticeship positions, with a further offer of 218 new apprenticeship positions available with MEGA companies in 2022. If filled these will bring MEGA’s total apprenticeship tally to 403 positions.
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