Helping bring young people in to the world of STEM

We need to spark an interest in STEM at a young age, says ANNE MARIE O’DONOVAN, HR Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Currabinny, as Science Week 2021 gets underway
Helping bring young people in to the world of STEM

Deirdre Flanagan, Senior Process Engineer, Thermo Fisher Scientific.

WITH Science Week 2021 underway, young people all over Ireland will be left thinking about what kind of future is open to them in an exciting world driven by advances in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).

Bringing young people into the world of STEM is more important now than ever before. Of the 20 fastest growing careers in the world, 15 are related to STEM. Ireland’s economy is increasingly driven by STEM as we combine international investment and homegrown talent to deliver excellence across a wide range of industries.

At Thermo Fisher Scientific, we have experienced that growth first-hand with new business, leading to nearly 100 new roles at our active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing site at Currabinny in the last two years.

As we grow, we have always been conscious that we are not just hiring the best people out there, but that we are also helping to build the talent pool too.

In a world where STEM skills are so valuable, it is crucial that everyone has access to training and education that will allow them to reach their full potential.

We need to spark an interest in STEM at a young level. Children need to grow up understanding the value of those skills and imagining themselves in a STEM role. This can be achieved by seeing role models that they can emulate and follow.

A recent I Wish survey outlined that a positive step to get more girls into STEM is enhancing confidence through mentorships and access to role models.

Children also need to see that science is fun too. We donate science kits to local schools that allow children to get hands-on experience in the classroom and see science in action. Through our Making a Difference initiative, we donate directly to community groups that benefit young people too, like our annual €50,000 Community Partnership fund.

Anne Marie O'Donovan, HR Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Currabinny
Anne Marie O'Donovan, HR Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Currabinny

Recently, we also donated €56,000 worth of IT equipment to the Carrigaline Family Support Centre, Coláiste Muire in Crosshaven, Barnardos and Ashbourne House Direct Provision Centre in Glounthane. Our hope is that this equipment will give children greater access to knowledge and skills and let them know that the door to STEM is open to them.

At second level, young people are faced with big choices that will shape their careers. What happens in the classroom matters, and it is essential that all children have access to STEM subjects. However, not everything can be learned from a book, and that is why we invite students to learn with us directly.

Our Transition Year programme offers direct experience of working life in the pharma sector to students at a time when they are making pivotal choices about their Leaving Certificate subjects and what they want to pursue when they leave school. Next year we are inviting 20 TY students onsite as part of this programme and we are also working on developing a virtual programme for hundreds more. Both our onsite and virtual work experience will allow students to speak directly with people already in the industry, learn about what type of jobs are available, what they entail and what the pathways are.

For many people, college is the next big step on the pathway. Our universities and ITs have a long legacy of educating people to the highest level of excellence when it comes to STEM.

International companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific come to Ireland because of that deep pool of talent, especially in Cork. We value our relationships with local universities and ITs, they help us select students for industrial placements each year and help us fill graduate positions.

Since 2015, we have welcomed over 300 students to do their placements at our facility. Our placement students are given an opportunity to learn on the job over a period of six to 12 months of practical work in-between their studies. Our placements include chemistry and engineering students, along with students in the disciplines of finance, HR and health and safety. That experience is hugely valuable to them when it comes to starting their careers, and many of our former students come back to Currabinny once they graduate.

Not everyone needs or wants to go to a university or IT to become a STEM professional though, and it is important that there are as many pathways as possible for people to follow.

In recent years, we’ve had huge success with our apprenticeship scheme, finding people with real potential and giving them direct training and experience. Our apprenticeship programme includes areas like Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. Recently, we had four apprentices who have been taken on full-time, and we’re incredibly excited for two more apprentices that are set to join us soon.

Science Week is an incredibly exciting time for everyone in our industry as we engage in conversations about the future of STEM in Ireland.

At Thermo Fisher Scientific, we are excited about what’s in store for our industry and look forward to building the next generation of STEM leaders too.

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