STEMFest 2024: 3,000 schoolchildren attend Bradford event aimed at 'opening eyes' to exciting careers

Thousands of schoolchildren have attended a three-day event in Bradford designed to encourage them to learn more about careers in STEM industries and help fill skills gaps across Yorkshire.

STEMFest 2024 took place between Tuesday and Thursday last week and was opened by West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin.

More than 3,000 young people aged between 10 and 14 from local schools attended the event and participated in demonstrations and interactive sessions from the 60 companies in attendance to learn more about the potential career opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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STEMFest is run by the North East STEM Hub and delivered by RTC North. Similar events have previously been held in the North East but this is the first time that STEMFest has taken place in Yorkshire.

Jonathan Wood speaking at the STEMFest eventJonathan Wood speaking at the STEMFest event
Jonathan Wood speaking at the STEMFest event

The event’s headline sponsor was Cummins, a global company which supplies engines and products to a variety of different market sectors and has sizeable facilities in Huddersfield and Darlington.

Jonathan Wood, the firm’s chief technical officer, said it was fantastic to be able to bring the event to Yorkshire for the first time.

The company employs around 1,000 people at its Huddersfield site alone.

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"In Huddersfield we do design, testing and manufacture of turbo charges for commercial vehicle applications. In Darlington, it is engines. We have a large development and manufacturing sector for our engine product.

"We sponsored the entire event because we are a big employer in the region and are always looking for STEM-educated staff coming up through our apprentice route or graduate route.

"There were huge amounts of energy from the kids to the entire STEMFest really. There was a lot of exhibitors and a really broad range – everything from Arla Foods to the National Cyber Crime Unit and then local companies doing really smart aerospace technology and components that go into things like satellites.

"There was a really broad spectrum of products and technologies on display that were great for the kids to go and look at. Each had a different creative way of getting them to engage with the products they make."

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Mr Wood said there are many opportunities for young people at companies like Cummins.

"As CTO, one of my roles really is making sure we have a pipeline of technical talent coming into the company globally and we have a really strong presence here in the UK and the North of England.

"There is a big demand for STEM-educated candidates and there’s a skills shortage in many areas. I’m not just talking about university graduates, I’m talking about apprenticeships and coming up through that route.

"This industry is going through a huge transition as we move from fossil fuel powered applications to zero emission hydrogen batteries.

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"It is the biggest evolution we have had in a century. Also in areas like software and cyber security, there is just such a high demand for those skills.

"We feel we should encourage kids to study the right subjects and have that pathway and pipeline of talent coming through.

"Events like this is about helping kids but also teachers understand the opportunities. Hopefully they will talk to their parents as well. STEMFest is about opening eyes to the diversity of opportunities that come with STEM.

"Selfishly, it is about us getting talent but at a community level it is about kids having great, positive, well-paid jobs in the future.”

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Mr Wood said it is hoped the event can return to Yorkshire in 2025, when it would coincide with Bradford’s City of Culture year.

“You’re not just going to make a change with one event. If we can start to get it into calendars at school, it can build momentum. It takes a number of businesses and industries coming together to make this happen,” he said.

Mr Wood said children are often interested in the environmentally-friendly changes being made in industry.

"As older kids start to think about a career, it is very much in their mind about whether it will have an environmentally positive impact on the world.

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"Our industry needs really smart minds to help us figure out and work through the transition. When you have transition and the need for technical innovation that drives creativity, innovation, jobs and growth. Kids are really tuned into that and switched onto it.”

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