I could see a sea of intrigued faces. What’s more, they were young faces – and I was talking energy. Where was I?
Volunteering at the Big Bang Fair, the UK’s biggest science and engineering fair – and it was fair full to the brim with interactive exhibits to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.
On the first day alone, 23,000 schoolchildren poured into the Birmingham NEC and over the next four days met volunteers from STEM backgrounds – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths – to hear about real life applications of STEM skills.
I spent most of my time in a large inflatable dome called the Careers Cabin taking part in numerous “speed networking” sessions for students from Year 7 through to sixth formers.
“How much do you spend on energy?” they asked
Along with tunnel design specialists, noise & vibration experts and apprentice civil engineers I stood up to explain my role as Debenhams Energy Manager – and each time, I saw those intrigued faces.
As students later came round and quizzed each of us, I was impressed by their questions. How much do you spend on energy? How do you save energy? Do you look after all of the stores alone? What is your typical day like? And the most common question of all, how much discount do you get?
I wowed them with some facts: a typical store uses the same energy as 100 houses (and that Debenhams has over 160 stores), that a third of the energy used in store is consumed by lighting – and I even gave them a few energy saving tips to take home with them.
Students knew the brand – but not as much about energy
Working for such a recognisable high street brand really seemed to turn heads and get the students engaged from the outset.
But I did notice there’s still a huge lack of awareness around energy, sustainability and environmental career paths. Not many students saw the relationship between STEM skills and the green agenda.
This is why I believe it’s crucial that more energy professionals proactively reach out and volunteer at events such as these, not only to raise the profile of our sector but to inspire the next generation of energy practitioners.
To explain to them that STEM is at the heart of what we do, the technologies we design and implement, the business cases we build and the markets that we follow.
As for me, the fair put to the test my leadership and communication skills (and with that many children on the loose of course, my patience!) It was rewarding to see that I’d ignited some interest in energy management as a career path. At the end of the day I was exhausted – but it felt well worth it!
Jaz Rabadia is Energy Manager at Debenhams and as a STEM Ambassador volunteers at various schools and colleges, STEM talks and activities every year. This year’s Big Bang Fair is over. There is still a chance to get involved in the local Big Bang Events.