Drone building programme used to encourage children to pursue a career in STEM
Drone: Picture credit - Richard Unten
Defence contractor Raytheon is teaching schoolchildren how to build drones to encourage them to pursue a career in science and the aerospace industry.
The US firm is working with Fife Council to expand its "quadcopter challenge" scheme, which provides free drone-making equipment, sends industry ambassadors to schools and offers site visits and work experience to pupils at its biggest UK facility in Glenrothes.
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Raytheon, whose core business is weapons and military electronics, is also seeking to promote its wider commercial work, such as developing commercial electronics and air traffic control systems and supporting astronaut training at NASA.
Sinead O’Donnell, Raytheon UK’s head of HR, power and control, acknowledged the aerospace and defence sector needs to be "a little more open and transparent" about its diverse commercial markets.
Speaking at a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Conference in Edinburgh, sponsored by Holyrood magazine, O’Donnell said: "The Raytheon UK quadcopter challenge provides students in each school with the opportunity to participate in a STEM based engineering challenge.
"They have the opportunity to build a fully operational, four bladed, multi-rotor, unmanned air system — or drone. This is provided at no cost to schools.
"In Glenrothes we have four schools participating as part of our trial. We have considered this a very successful trial and we are now working in collaboration with Fife Council to extend this programme to even more schools.
"We have found it is a great way to motivate students to take up STEM subjects. We have also found that a local connection is a great way to show students about the fantastic STEM based careers on their doorstep.
"We also provide continuous management, technical support and assign a number of STEM ambassadors per school throughout the duration of the challenge.
"We have organised company visits to our company facility in Glenrothes, which enables students to talk to our UK engineers and ambassadors for advice, sharing their personal experience and of course inspiration.
"At Raytheon, we believe that developing and crucially maintaining an early interest is absolutely vital.
"We think that STEM ambassadors are a particularly good way of doing this through interventions in school."
She said the industry is "finding it harder to recruit experienced staff with STEM expertise"
"This is due to intense competition between sectors, but also because too few schoolchildren are studying STEM," she said.
O’Donnell said some the negative assumptions about working in the defence industry are changing.
"We, as a sector, need to be a little more open and transparent about some of the different initiatives that we have," she said.
"For example, we have a graduate programme where we have in intake of 25 graduates in this year alone.
"Our Raytheon UK scheme had 15,000 applications so I think some of the assumptions are starting to change, and I think as we are diversifying into different markets — power, commercial aircraft — does help and I think we need to promote that more to engage people."