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Inspiring Future Engineers With The Subsea UK STEM Challenge

Inspiring the next generation to enter the energy industry is a challenge that all companies involved in the sector must play a part in. One scheme that aims to do that is Subsea UK’s STEM Challenge.

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The industry body for the British subsea sector organises the annual initiative to inspire young teenagers to consider a career in the subsea sector. Supported by  The Smallpeice Trust, the STEM Challenge involves school pupils aged 13 and 14 who have an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects competing in regional heats across the country to earn a place in the final.

The initiative is designed to engage pupils through an exciting, hands-on project, while also demonstrating to them the breadth of job opportunities that are offered by the energy industry. This year, Flowline Specialists has been one of the initiative’s sponsors, joining a roster of other companies that includes Fugro, Subsea 7, DOF Subsea, TechnipFMC and BP.

Regional heats were held during November and December in Manchester, Northumberland, Norwich, Bristol, Glasgow and Inverness, with over 250 pupils taking part. The winners of each heat then travelled to Aberdeen for the final in March 2020.

Flowline Specialists’ engineering manager Ben Gray attended the Inverness heat and supported one of the school groups taking part. Staff from Subsea 7, DOF Subsea, Helix Energy Solutions and Fugro were also present to provide assistance to other groups.

“It is a great initiative that allows companies such as ours to engage with future talent and help inspire the next generation into engineering,” explained Ben. “The entire day had a fun feeling until the challenge got started. You could see the teams knuckling down to get on with their designs and then building the ROVs. As the time for building was coming to an end you saw the teams starting to get very serious about winning.”

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Some of the pupils attending the Inverness heat of the Subsea UK STEM Challenge

Eight teams competed in the Inverness heat, including two teams from Millburn, Charleston and Alness Academies, and a team each from Inverness High School and Grantown Grammar School. Each team was tasked with designing, building and testing a small ROV, before creating and delivering a pitch to a panel of judges to promote their ROV design.

Ben added: “The challenge was to design an ROV from a standard parts pack that could then be programmed to navigate a set route. The designs varied massively from team to team. As the groups worked on their ROVs and pitches you could see some stand out pupils who were really engaged with the task in hand, which was very encouraging.

“Myself, representatives from other companies and the school teachers were on hand to help and guide the different groups. They each had to assign a project manager, designer, programmer and PR manager in order to tackle all aspects of the project. It gave them an excellent idea of the different roles that are on offer in the industry.

“As the groups worked on their designs and pitches we gave them a bit of guidance to ensure they didn’t overlook anything, or suggested different approaches if they had encountered challenges. For example, reducing the height of the ROV to improve its corner capabilities and similar design tweaks.”

It was one of the teams from Millburn Academy that were crowned winners of the Inverness heat, having impressed the judges.

Along with taking part in the challenge pupils heard from some of the companies that form part of the energy industry supply chain, giving them a taster of the work carried out by different companies and the types of careers each can offer.

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An ROV designed and built by one of the teams at the Inverness heat

Ben said that this type of initiative would have inspired him to enter the industry: “Support from local companies showing young people that what they are learning at school can be applied to engineering would have been a massive benefit to me.

“I started out in the energy industry at the bottom, working as a trainee offshore. From there, I worked my way up to become a senior offshore engineer, before naturally progressing into projects and project management. I’ve been very fortunate to see the world whilst working offshore, including memorable trips to Cape Town, Greenland and The Falkland Islands. It’s a great industry to be involved in, with many opportunities.

“What the STEM Challenge demonstrates is that no matter what background you have, everyone has the ability to make an impact in our industry. You just require patience, perseverance and hard work.”

The final of the STEM Challenge took place on Friday, 06 March 2020 at P&J Live in Aberdeen. For more information on the Subsea UK STEM Challenge, visit www.subseauk.com/10364/stem-challenge.

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