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A UK government-backed programme may have started to crack the problem of getting more young women into maritime careers ‒ and of ensuring girls study the subjects they will need for a future in the industry. It’s early days to judge the success of 2019’s Maritime Roadshow for Girls, but as Sarah Robinson writes, there is some very encouraging data in the project’s completion report
Ambitious and well-resourced, last year's Maritime Roadshow for Girls represented a major push by the UK government to even up the gender balance in the shipping industry.
The roadshow initiative was supported by the Department for Transport and organised by the 1851 Trust, the official charity of the British America's Cup challenger INEOS Team UK, led by Sir Ben Ainslie.
The charity has a remit to encourage more young women to embark on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers in the maritime industry – which is quite a challenge, given the generally low profile of these careers in UK schools for boys and girls alike.
Even when schools do provide information about maritime careers, there is a specific issue for female pupils, encapsulated in the phrase: 'You need to see it to be it'. Girls are not seeing enough people like themselves in the career promotion literature or meeting women working in maritime.
And if, later, these girls do discover maritime careers as young women, they may find themselves hampered by having the wrong qualifications, because they are less likely than their male peers to have chosen to study STEM subjects.
The Maritime Roadshow for Girls aimed to tackle all these problems. It would offer inspirational maritime activity days around the UK for girls in Key Stage 3 (aged 11-14) who were not yet at the point of deciding their subject options for qualifications such as GCSEs and Scottish Highers.
Hands-on activities would show the girls what maritime jobs could entail and build their confidence that they could do this kind of work. And the sessions would be led by female maritime professionals to help the girls picture their own futures as women in maritime roles.
Over 80 maritime employers supported the project, including British Antarctic Survey, DFDS, Stena Line and Trinity House, and Nautilus put out a call to encourage female members to volunteer.
Twelve roadshows were delivered at nine maritime-inspired locations across the UK in late 2019, with up to 120 girls between the ages of 11-14 from local schools attending each day. Throughout all the roadshows, there were 191 appearances from 171 different STEM ambassadors and maritime volunteers.
Activities included coding robots, virtual reality, iterative design, testing in a wind tunnel and building wind turbines and bridges.
Feedback was collected from the participating girls and their teachers – both on the days of the roadshows and in follow-up interviews – and data has now been collated in the completion report.
According to the report, which analyses both quantitative and qualitative data, the Maritime Roadshow for Girls was successful in achieving the following three key aims:
- increase participation, contribution and confidence in STEM subjects at school
- inspire young women to pursue STEM-related careers in the maritime sector
- empower young women to make informed choices about further education and career paths
There were enthusiastic comments from the girls about how enjoyable they had found the activities on the day, but perhaps even more valuable were the comments from teachers two-to-six months after their pupils had attended a roadshow. The teachers reported the following impacts:
- long-term raising of aspirations, especially notable in students from more deprived backgrounds
- impact on peers back at school from the girls' enthusiasm to share their learnings from the day
- overall attitude back in the classroom, including enthusing excitement in core subjects and developing understanding of their relevance to the girls' future careers
- development of transferable skills and confidence in general
- creation of opportunities and impact outside of school, at home and in their local communities
I enjoyed today and learning about careers in maritime as I had never heard of any of the jobs before and what they actually do...I am going to consider going into a maritime career in the future Student feedback, Belfast
To gauge whether the Maritime Roadshow for Girls should be tweaked for future sessions, it was important to assess how effective the activity day model had been. Other programmes of this type have generally involved running a workshop at the pupils' own schools, but here the girls in each region were brought to a maritime hub to take part in the roadshow.
The feedback indicated that this format strongly contributed to the success of the programme, as the participants could see new places and associate STEM and maritime careers with an enjoyable day out.
The completion report says that for some girls, the day was 'an experience of a lifetime'. It was notable in Portsmouth, it adds, that attending the roadshow was the first time some of the students had ever been off of the Isle of Wight.
It concludes: 'The direct link to women working in maritime and STEM careers in locations with a strong maritime history made the roadshows unique and more importantly provided role models and access to industries a lot of the students previously had no knowledge, interest or confidence in.'
The report does not specify what the plans are for future tranches of roadshows, but many participants said they would like to attend again, and the data as a whole indicates that the programme was beneficial.
Of course, events have rather overtaken us now, and all plans have had to be changed under the new reality of the global pandemic, but with this weight of evidence, there must surely be a good chance the Maritime Roadshow for Girls could become a regular fixture in the UK school calendar once coronavirus restrictions have been fully lifted.
- Download the full report on the Maritime Roadshow for Girls from the 1851 trust website