The Beck Greener "STEM: Branching Out" project is the cornerstone of the Community aspect of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Programme.
London has the highest unemployment rates among graduates and yet the estimated shortfall of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths) nationwide is ~40,000. The "skills gap" remains an issue across STEM disciplines and its root cause starts early.
STEM engagement is estimated to decline by 74% in girls and 56% in boys during secondary school, resulting in less than 10% of students leaving school with maths or physics A-levels. Additionally, the proportion of women working in core STEM occupations is only 21%, and only 1 in 5 students studying STEM in universities are BAME. While gender diversity in IP is somewhat better (34% women), ethnic diversity seems worse with over 90% of UK patent attorneys describing their ethnicity as "white".
As a firm, these issues concern us greatly. Innovation is essential for success in many UK businesses. Without high-calibre scientists and engineers, where will the next generation of inventors and patent examiners, patent judges and patent attorneys come from?
The patent profession is small, and many people with a budding interest in law and/or STEM are not necessarily aware of it until after key decision points like choosing GCSE, A-level and degree subjects. This is a problem because patent practitioners must have a STEM degree. Therefore, if we are to attract the best people into the profession, and improve diversity, it is important to raise awareness of the profession in school-aged students from all backgrounds.
With this in mind, we decided to help inspire and encourage young people to consider a career in STEM sectors, including the patent profession. We hoped in particular to reach students from sections of the community that are currently under-represented in STEM, thereby improving diversity and social mobility in these sectors.
In January 2016, we introduced the "STEM: Branching Out" project. The project encompasses a variety of activities aimed at inspiring and encouraging young people to consider careers involving the STEM subjects, and raising the profile of the IP profession, while also providing our staff with opportunities to develop their skills in areas such as communication, leadership, presentation, and project-management.
There are four main branches to our project:
1. STEM Ambassador Programme
We have joined the STEM Ambassador Programme run by our community partner, STEM Learning UK. The goal of the programme is to provide enrichment opportunities to inspire young people to engage more with, and consider careers involving, STEM. Our STEM Ambassadors help teachers achieve this goal.
This programme is well-placed to help us achieve the aims of our project. Since most Beck Greener attorneys have STEM degrees, we are ideally placed to contribute to the programme, and from a new and unique perspective.
To date, 13 of 16 eligible fee-earners have become STEM Ambassadors, including 8 of 10 eligible partners (including the Senior Partner). In addition, 6 Ambassadors are women which enables us to present an image of near parity in terms of gender diversity in STEM.
Our Ambassadors are aged from 22 to over 60 and have degrees in a broad range of subjects including chemistry, biochemistry, physics, IT, electronics, astrophysics and materials science. As the first IP firm to sign up to the programme, we have added a great deal of diversity in terms of using STEM knowledge and experience in a non-traditional STEM role.
We target schools with above-average numbers of pupils:
• claiming free school meals;
• from minority ethnic heritage; or
• for whom English is not their first language
Our Ambassadors attend Big Bang fairs and career events, judge science competitions and mentor struggling students.
We have also developed a "Spot-The-Invention" workshop in which students examine old and new versions of gadgets and identify the improvements and advantages. The discussion is expanded into the wider context of work as patent attorneys.
2. Pro bono scheme
We work closely with school-aged students to assess the patentability of school science and engineering projects and help them prepare and file GB patent applications for potential inventions. We help the students analyse the results of the official prior art searches, and are on hand to provide advice regarding options for utilising their IP to their best advantage.
3. Insight opportunities
We put on insight days for students interested in learning more about the IP profession. The students come into the office where fee-earners explain the work that we do, and the students are given "hands-on" tasks to complete by way of example.
We also take students on "enhanced" work placements for one or two weeks where they move around the firm, experiencing real work with both attorneys and support staff.
4. Training placements
We offer full-time paid work experience to IT students on a one year industrial placement, as part of their degree. The students work within the IT department to help maintain and upgrade the firm’s IT systems.
We also offer a business administration apprenticeship in which the apprentice spends time working within different support functions in the business.
Both positions provide invaluable work experience to young people which helps them secure permanent full time employment in the future.
In the two years following the introduction of the project, we reached over 2500 students from Years 3 to 12, most of whom are from minority ethnic heritage.
Highlights include mentoring three struggling Year 11 students through their maths GSCE, with all achieving higher than expected grades and two passing the exam. We also filed our first patent application under the pro bono scheme.
In January 2018, STEM Learning asked to prepare an impact report on our project. In February 2018, we conducted nine workshops with the additional aim of collecting data for the report. Students were asked to complete a survey before and after the workshop. Over two hundred Year 9/10 students took part. STEM Learning analysed the students’ answers and prepared the report (see link).
The impact report shows among other things that, after engagement with our STEM Ambassadors, the total number of students considering a career in STEM rose by 90%.
We are delighted that Beck Greener has been awarded the Heart of the City award in the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards 2018 for the "STEM: Branching Out" project.
Organised by the City of London, the Lord Mayor's Dragon Awards recognise excellence in companies' Corporate Community Involvement that benefits Greater London. The Heart of the City Award in particular recognises businesses that have set up a strategic approach to community engagement for the first time in the last three years.
The Awards were the first of their kind in the UK, and remain the only London-wide scheme that recognises Corporate Community Involvement. Since the first Awards, over 130 Dragon Awards have been given to companies ranging from small local enterprises, to large multi-national businesses.
In 2016, we were also shortlisted for a STEM Inspiration award organised by STEM Learning UK, and we have been nominated again for an award in 2018 (see link).
We are also very pleased to have achieved a GivX score of 297 points per head in 2018 (up from less than 35 points before the project began). GivX is a tool that assigns a monetary value to various community investment activities and enables organisations to benchmark and compare their performances (see link).
The "STEM: Branching Out" project has also been included as a case study in a 2018 report entitled "Corporate community investment: four routes to impact" (see link). This report is the result of research carried out by the City of London, in collaboration with Corporate Citizenship, into community investment within the Financial and Related Professional Services (FRPS) sector.
If you would like further information about our CSR activities or about our "STEM: Branching Out" project, please contact James Stones, who is the partner responsible for CSR, or Catherine Jewell, who is the project lead.