All primary and secondary school pupils in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil will soon be able to engage with an exciting range of local science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) employers as part of a new effort to inspire and encourage more young people into high-skilled STEM careers, the Welsh Government has announced.
The Welsh Valleys Engineering Project (WVEP) is an initiative developed jointly by the Panasonic Trust and the Royal Academy of Engineering that started in 2018, funded by the Trust and delivered by the Academy. Its aim is to create centres of excellence in STEM teaching and improve learning opportunities in the South Wales valleys by bringing real-world engineering practice into schools and colleges.
The programme helps enrich the curriculum, enhances pupil engagement, and provides high-quality learning experiences through additional STEM teaching and engagement with STEM-related companies, raising the aspirations of learners about opportunities available to them. The programme is particularly keen to help increase diversity in STEM careers, engaging with groups that are currently under-represented in engineering.
The WVEP currently works with Coleg Gwent and Merthyr College, along with eight secondary schools and five primary schools in the area. It has so far provided more than 20,000 STEM learning opportunities and has awarded 69 Panasonic Trust Future Engineer bursaries to post-16 students, with 33% of bursaries awarded to women students in academic year 20/21.
The programme will receive £348,377 over four years from the Welsh Government’s Tech Valleys Programme, extending the WVEP’s employer engagement strand to cover all 53 schools in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil from the spring term of 2022.
The expansion will help create a sustainable legacy through better-resourced schools, upskilled teachers and closer alignment between the STEM curriculum and the needs of STEM businesses in the area. It will also offer valuable opportunities for social mobility and contribute to the pipeline of highly skilled workers that the Welsh Government’s £100 million Tech Valleys programme aims to facilitate.
Throughout the period of the expanded project, the Panasonic Trust will continue to fund Future Engineer bursaries for students continuing into Further Education, with an extension to funding those continuing yet further into Higher Education.
STEM forms an integral part of the Curriculum for Wales, alongside preparing learners for study, employment and life in the 21st century.
Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said: “My ambition is to make Wales a place where more young people feel confident in planning their future. My message to them is you don’t have to get out to get on.
“Programmes like this provide a crucial practical part in creating optimism around this vision. It enriches the curriculum, enhances pupil engagement, and inspires students by bringing real-world engineering practice into schools.
“Through Tech Valleys, the Welsh Government is committed to business growth across the south Wales valleys and expanding the base of technology-driven organisations we have in the area. We want to support all businesses to innovate and strive for world-leading technologies.
“We are already a destination of choice for exceptional companies and projects. This programme, through genuine collaboration with local authorities, businesses and schools, is a long-term commitment to creating centres of excellence in STEM learning and fostering the future workforce for these businesses and initiatives to reach even greater heights in the future. It could inform a Wales-wide roll out of the model.”
WVEP is delivered by The Royal Academy of Engineering, a charity focused on harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone.
Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “I am absolutely delighted that our ambitious plans to extend the Welsh Valleys Engineering Project’s employer engagement have been realised and that the Academy is able to strengthen and broaden its engagement in Wales. One of the main aims of the Academy is to support the development of an inclusive economy, and that includes identifying and engaging with schools in areas of low social mobility, providing equity of access to science and engineering for the students in these areas, and developing their skills for the future. By building long-lasting local partnerships between schools and employers in these areas, we can also work together to contribute towards the creation of an engineering skills base better able to meet regional needs.”
Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, said: “I’m very pleased to see the extension of WVEP to schools across Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil – the success of the programme thus far is testament to the effort which schools and employers have put in to widening opportunities for young people in this part of Wales, and I’m delighted to see it going from strength to strength.
“Programmes such as these equip all learners – no matter if they continue in STEM-related careers or not – so they can thrive in a world driven by science and technology. Ensuring we have skilled learners in these fields is vital to our economic prospects here in Wales.
“Our Tertiary Education and Research Bill – introduced at the Senedd earlier this month – sets out our plans for radical reform in the post-16 education sector, ensuring more and more people have access to greater learning and training opportunities after they reach the end of their compulsory schooling. Programmes such as WVEP show we can help young people move into those fields by training them in sought-after skills while still in school, and I look forward to seeing the programme’s success in the future.”