In 2015, we initiated LaunchPad which is a programme aimed at encouraging more young people growing up in the Cambridge area to consider making choices that could open up opportunities for careers in engineering or engineering-related businesses. This is not a recruitment tool but rather a scheme helping on a local level to address the woeful lack nationally of young people choosing to study STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, especially among young girls. LaunchPad works through local schools, with young people between the ages of 8 and 18, as well as their families and teachers. We are committed to achieving a 50:50 split between boys and girls on the programme.
The major activity (the “Stars” programme) is targeted at the youngest age group (8-10 year olds) in the final years at Primary School. This is the age at which young people start to make choices and set their ambitions for adult life. It is also the age group which gets the least exposure to STEM-type subjects because of the lack of STEM-educated teachers.
The next level (the “Innovators” programme) is aimed at 11-16 year olds in their first years at Secondary School, when they make their GCSE choices, and the top level (the “Scholars” programme) works with Sixth Form students. Core to the LaunchPad philosophy is the practice of “roll-back”, with each year’s LaunchPad winners playing an active role in engaging with their successors in that year group. For this reason, the prize trips for the winners in each group are undertaken at the beginning of the new school year so that they can come back and enthuse the next generation with stories about what they did to become a LaunchPad scholar and enjoy the prize trip.
In the first year, more than 650 young people in Cambridge were exposed to LaunchPad, enjoying talks in school from our LaunchPad ambassadors (we have 35 of them), visits to Marshall and a series of activities/competitions aimed at piquing some interest in engineering. The Stars Festival in 22 Hangar at Cambridge Airport welcomed 150 eight year-olds for a day which included chariot racing and parachuting eggs from a raised platform. The sixteen winners from that day enjoyed a daytrip to LegoLand near Windsor, which included specially-designed educational workshops during the visit.
The Innovators challenge saw teams of eleven-year-olds making weight bearing bridges out of balsa wood and glue which had to span a metre-wide gorge; the winning team, from Netherhall School, won the competition with a bridge which survived a 13kg load in the centre of the span. The whole programme has been led by a group of young engineers and apprentices from across Marshall.
In 2016, the programme has doubled in size and the team are now working with 15 schools, expecting to engage with more than 1,500 young people. Recognising that the take-up from local schools has been even better than anticipated, we are now joining forces with other local companies like ARM, TTP and TWI to broaden the scope of the opportunities LaunchPad can offer young people and we hope to continue to grow this ‘movement’ across the whole of the greater Cambridge area in the coming years.