AbbVie plants ideas to help Stem subjects blossom
Biopharma giant reaches out to schools to change attitudes to careers in science
The Seek Engineering module developed for sixth-class primary-school students is designed to stimulate an interest and understanding of what engineers do.
Global biopharmaceutical giant AbbVie is playing its part in promoting a greater uptake of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects by Irish students. The company employs close to 600 people at five manufacturing and commercial sites across Ireland and is committed to developing cutting-edge therapies and innovations with the potential to improve healthcare worldwide.
Addressing complex health challenges requires a comprehensive approach which extends to supporting education in the communities in which the company has a presence.
“One key objective is to help transform, promote and support Stem-related projects and activities, and AbbVie actively engages with schools, colleges and industry partners to achieve this ambition,” said Caroline McClafferty, human resources director with AbbVie in Ireland.
“The work that organisations such as Science Foundation Ireland [SFI] have been undertaking in the area of Stem in order to develop a future pipeline of talent is very reassuring,” she added.
“However, there is a requirement to encourage an engagement with science from an early age. This is something that AbbVie is also supporting through our partnerships with the charity Young Social Innovators and through our own science programme, which is called Seek [Science Engineering Exploration Knowledge], in partnership with local primary schools.”
Launched in 2014, Seek is a global education programme using company volunteers to spark a child’s interest in science and to hopefully play a part in creating Ireland’s next generation of leaders in this field. The programme was piloted in Ireland and workshops now take place annually at primary schools in Dublin, Cork and Sligo – areas where AbbVie has a local presence.
Earlier this year the company launched Seek Engineering. This is a new engineering-focused module specifically developed for sixth-class primary-school students. The programme is designed to stimulate an interest and understanding of what engineers do; engage students in an engineering challenge; and explores careers in engineering. More than 160 schoolchildren have participated in the initiative so far.
AbbVie has also partnered with Young Social Innovators to run a series of school-based workshops across Ireland that challenge teenagers to consider harnessing their unique creative potential to address societal issues that affect them and their peers.
“A number of schools have been selected from across Dublin, Cork and Sligo to visit our workplaces and interact with employees from a wide range of professional backgrounds,” said McClafferty.
“This exercise provided students with a great insight into the work we do at AbbVie and also encouraged them to consider Stem disciplines as Leaving Certificate, university and career options.”
McClafferty believes these types of interactions are key to demystifying the biopharmaceutical industry in Ireland. “Hopefully, greater understanding will encourage an interest in science and engineering careers and in turn increase student interest in selecting third-level academic programmes related to Stem,” she adds.
AbbVie in Ireland recently hosted a Stem-focused event, in partnership with The Irish Times, which explored how Irish industry, educators, professional bodies and others stakeholders can work together to attract students to the Stem disciplines. At the round-table workshop, organisations including SFI, Engineers Ireland, BioPharmaChem Ireland, IDA and representatives of some of Ireland’s leading universities discussed the current situation, reviewing the existing challenges and opportunities.
“We convened the event to discuss ways in which companies like AbbVie, in partnership with The Irish Times and other interested parties, can play a role in overcoming negative perceptions of Stem amongst schoolgoers,” said McClafferty.
“Our aspiration is to help Irish students better see the potential that undoubtedly exists for successful, fulfilling careers utilising these disciplines in Ireland with locally-based companies such as AbbVie. We feel that it is vital for us to be proactive so we can ensure that the talent pipeline is in place for all companies active in Stem areas in Ireland.”
The event was highly productive with a number of interesting ideas floated. “I think some of the suggestions made might improve long-term engagement in science or introduce mechanisms that can help companies such as AbbVie be confident in terms our industry-specific talent needs,” said McClafferty.
“This is an issue that has been identified in recent months by several organisations as a potential impediment to growth in the sector. It’s important for us as an industry to be proactive in reaching out to interested parties and everyone with a stake in the situation to make sure that Ireland continues to be optimally positioned to be competitive as a location in all aspects of the biopharma industry.
“Some of the insights, recommendations and ideas raised at this roundtable event will be publicised in The Irish Times and through other channels in the coming months.”