How DC Thomson and 20/20 Business Insight volunteers are helping SmartSTEMs inspire students to choose careers in science, tech engineering & maths
Glasgow-based charity SmartSTEMs connects – for free – schools, industry and academia to inspire students from every type of background to choose a career in science, technology, engineering or maths. A small core staff is supported by seven trustees, one of whom is a recent new volunteer recruit from the senior ranks of industry.
Another volunteer from the business sector – a social media expert from DC Thomson – has been helping SmartSTEMs raise awareness of STEM career opportunities to students, teachers, parents and academia. Here’s how it happened…
We spoke to Emma Bodiam and Karen Murray at SmartSTEMs about why they turned to Social Good Connect for volunteer help.
“We needed help in a slightly different way to how most people might imagine volunteering. For our small charity, having more internal help to run our operations and raise awareness of our work and aims has made an invaluable difference and a huge impact. People often think of volunteers as going out and directly helping beneficiaries. In this case, we needed support behind the scenes with how the charity runs and promotes its work. “
We specifically sought support from professionals in the business sector to help us strengthen the collaboration between education and industry, give students access to a well-connected voice from business AND use social media to alert them to the possibilities of careers in science, tech engineering & maths.“
Tom Vincent is CEO of 20/20 Business Insight, a project management firm that joined Social Good Connect in 2021 and has already helped three other charities through employee volunteering.
“I’m passionate about raising awareness of the exciting opportunities that can come from having STEM-based skills. Having worked in STEM-related industries for 15 years, I know that there are all types of opportunity that students simply aren’t aware of. I’ve witnessed many prejudices shape young minds, including careers advisors who don’t promote STEM jobs or possibilities to female students! SmartSTEMs’ inspired approach breaks down these barriers, raises awareness to unaware groups, and provides role models and a vision for the future, and I really want to help with that.”
“Before my various STEM jobs I’d gone from growing up on a farm in Devon to being in the military, where I was funded to do an engineering degree. I did my dissertation on the skills gap in civil engineering – it was so white male dominated and it made no sense, for example, that female students often weren’t encouraged to apply or given any exposure to engineering-related career options.”
“When we signed up to Social Good Connect I was keen to lead by example and get involved, but I also wanted to hold out for a volunteering role that really resonated -something that I felt I wanted to do rather than should do. The SmartSTEMs request was the perfect match and it wasn’t a difficult decision. I had two enjoyable no-pressure interviews and they were very much a two-way process.”
“The role is about helping the charity make influential connections, and it’s shone a light on several parallels with our business and my background. Although I’m busy as CEO at 20/20 managing corporate clients and engaging with partners such as the Association for Project Management, the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board and The Institution of Civil Engineers, I’m passionate about giving my time to this cause. Like us, SmartSTEMs has experienced a major transition from face-to-face events to online events, and like us, they’re actively expanding their reach from Scotland out to a wider UK audience. I have industry connections in Scotland and Southern England and I’ll be satisfied if over the months I can introduce several individuals and corporations who can make a difference to student awareness by sourcing young STEM ambassadors who’ll share their stories.”
“I live in England but have travelled to Glasgow twice to meet the board and understand the charity’s needs. In my first meeting I was given the Charity Trustee Handbook – it’s interesting to compare the responsibilities of a CEO role with those of a charity trustee role. I realised that the strengths you build over decades of working, combined with your background, your knowledge and your connections can be put to really good use as a volunteer. I wholeheartedly believe in what SmartSTEMs is trying to do, so volunteering with them makes me feel positive and it’s a powerful feeling to be able to help.”
“I think people should keep an open mind about volunteering. It’s about having a growth mindset too. It goes much deeper than just giving a bit of your time. If you manage to connect with the right charity, one whose vision really resonates with your interests, then you don’t ever feel like you’re ‘giving away’ your time.”
Hailey Combe, Engagement Assistant at DC Thomson
“I can’t believe my luck really. I found an incredible opportunity on the platform that allows me to help a charity AND develop my skills and interests. I’ve been helping SmartSTEMs with their social media alongside my day job, all virtually, for several months now and in my mind, it’s an indefinite commitment. It’s such a two-way benefit and so rewarding. I’d just finished mentoring young people with Breakthrough 1-to-1 and really enjoyed volunteering in the education sector, so this was a perfect way to fill the gap left when that placement finished.”
“I’m really interested in social media, how rapidly its use and impact is constantly changing, and what it can do for company awareness. So I love this role. I was nervous to start with because it’s not my specialist subject, but the charity has been welcoming and nurturing and they’ve allowed me the freedom to develop new ideas alongside raising awareness of their work. I help them to communicate their news, stories, trends and promote campaigns, like their #MyJob #MyJourney campaign, which voices people’s career experience or journey.”
“I started by reviewing their website and social media platforms and recommended adjustments and enhancements to content and scheduling. I help them track their take-up and we plan future communications ahead according to how the target audience is reacting and engaging. I love how dynamic social media is and how it creates a sense of community with really supportive strangers.”
“Even though social media isn’t a core part of my day job in engagement and wellbeing, I know I can bring fresh ideas and practical additions, using tools like LinkedIn Learning, which we have access to at DC Thomson. That’s what really works about volunteering through Social Good Connect. You enter your work and non-work skills and interests and your industry and location preferences into your profile and it can return perfect matches like this one. The volunteering opportunities are endless – you should never take for granted how much your natural skills and passions can help other people and under-staffed organisations.”
“We didn’t have the exposure when I was at school to this breadth of reachable, relatable STEM-related information and real-life examples of STEM career paths. You realise when you see the charity’s work and their events just how broad the definition of STEM careers can be – you don’t have to be a scientist in a lab or the best at maths. A STEM career could include digital roles that you wouldn’t even think about if you had no links to industry connections, real career path examples and human stories. It’s brilliant for teenagers to have someone to look up to and be inspired by.”
“I’m just so happy to be able to use this volunteering opportunity to bring out the personality of SmartSTEMs. There are other organisation that go into schools, but this is different. Their events and real stories bring so much value to young people, teachers and parents.”
“Hailey is an absolute gem and worth her weight in gold! We never expected the level of time commitment that she has chosen to give us – she’s gone above and beyond. Social media, especially if you aren’t an expert, can be very time-consuming and Hailey’s ongoing support providing content for our LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media posts has been invaluable. We talk about tech careers a lot here, so it’s important that we’re on the ball with tech ourselves!”
“Our social media presence is vastly different as a result of having Hailey on board. We already see her as part of our small team. We have a weekly online meeting to discuss the posts and videos that we want to schedule and what we want them to achieve, and we have an ongoing WhatsApp group to share emerging content ideas throughout the week. She knows exactly which platform is right for which type of post and target audience and it’s important that we use all types, because we want to engage not just students but their parents, teachers and the businesses who create jobs in science, technology, engineering and maths.”
“She’s teaching us about social media as we go, and that’s a huge bonus. She helps us promote our events to all our audiences and tell them about our charity achievements, such as the awards we get shortlisted for. It’s important for us to be able to tell powerful stories such as our #MyJob and #MyJourney), where business leaders describe their unexpected or unconventional path into STEM careers.”
“We’re all about making connections, and that’s where Tom comes in. On our board we had trustees from education and recruitment, but no-one from industry apart from our CEO and founder, Stuart, who runs a tech business. Using Social Good Connect to reach out to professionals who have a genuine interest in getting young people involved in STEM careers is ideal. It means the volunteers who come forward are perfect matches coming to us under their own steam and with relevant skills.“
“Tom’s enthusiasm for STEM and his strong network of business and STEM industry contacts helps us access a whole new pool of supporters, break down silos between the sectors and generate greater collaboration between business, school/college teachers and students. He’s made a huge effort to understand how we work and what we need to reach more students. He’s helping us with ideas for potential sponsors and connecting us to useful individuals from organisations such as the Girl Guides. Sponsors are invaluable – their funding means we can expand what we do, scale up and communicate about STEM careers to entirely new groups of young people, including those with special needs. Our awareness events bring together people who might otherwise never have met or shared their experiences of how to access jobs that need STEM skills. Tom’s unusual route is an inspiring example. It shows students that there is no ‘wrong’ path to a particular career. And the more companies we connect to, the more companies gain access to a potential new pipeline of talent for several years to come.”
“We exist to inspire students from backgrounds that haven’t encouraged them to even consider careers in these fields. We also address the fact that still far too many young girls don’t see themselves as being relevant to careers in STEM, often because there are no role models in their lives. Every child is on a path through education towards employment, and if for some reason they fall off that path, we inspire them with opportunities to get back on in areas they may never have thought of or had access to, regardless of their background, demographics or circumstances.”
We knew that Social Good Connect would be able to help us find volunteers to do this, and in fact we found both Hailey and Tom within a week of joining the platform. They both applied quickly to our roles and were ideal matches for the charity, and still are! Using the platform has been easy, never admin-heavy, and the team has been a massive help. We’d encourage charities, especially small ones who need new and different perspectives from the business sector, to join up and reap the benefits.”
Caroline has made it her life’s work to help people make more meaningful decisions to support their communities and she’s learned some golden nuggets along the way!
So, join Caroline each week for her ‘Thursday Thoughts’ on all things people, planet, philanthropy or purpose all served with sprinkle of fun (but unfortunately no prosecco) to inspire you.