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Role models can inspire youngsters

DIVERSITY IN EMPLOYMENT: Dr Petula Nurse is the University of Wolverhampton’s biomedical science head

TWO BLACK professionals are hoping to build on their own success to equalise employment opportunities in the West Midlands – and they need more role models to inspire the next generation.

The enterprising pair hoping to help youths find jobs are Reverend Cassius Francis, a development worker for Just Finance’s Black Country division, and Dr Petula Nurse, principal lecturer in biomedical science and head of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) outreach and community engagement at the University of Wolverhampton.

While planning follow-ups to their outreach event in February, the duo have called for more black professionals to come forward as inspirational role models for young people.

Their ‘WOW: Work Opportunities Wolverhampton’ brought businesses, educators and practitioners together to engage and inspire local youth and their parents/carers, to encourage gender and cultural diversity in employment.

Although aimed at 11- to 16-year-olds, WOW attracted those below and above that age range as well. The postevent feedback was positive, particularly regarding the work and money workshop, led by youth from the Pentecostal Credit Union.

WOW, including the workshop, will return to the University of Wolverhampton on April 8, 2020.

And Rev Francis has developed the workshop into a standalone event: The Finance for Young People Workshop, which will take place on bank holiday Saturday, August 24, from 1pm to 4pm, at New Testament Church of God Harvest Temple in Wednesfield Road, Wolverhampton.

It will offer advice on financial management, encourage dialogue between young people and parents/carers about money, and field questions about financial matters.

A factor in the success of WOW and the workshop was the involvement of role models with whom the delegates could identify, Rev Francis said.

“The issues around discrimination that young people may face have not disappeared,” he said.

“The statutory authorities have to do their part but there are successful people in our black communities that should give back: take opportunities to speak to young people about their careers. We have found that this helps them prepare for work and things they will encounter in the future.

“We often hear negative coverage about young people, but there are also many who want to do something positive with their lives and careers, so we need we open the door to them, and not create a self-fulfilling prophecy by letting negative stories about our youth define them. We must encourage them to aim high.”

PICTURED: Reverend Cassius Francis

Addressing her remit to boost the take-up of STEM among females and ethnic minority students, Dr Petula Nurse added: “There is a great interest in STEM amongst black communities, but some graduates in STEM subjects choose not to go into related work or find them difficult to get into.

“Only 11 per cent of the workforce in engineering are women and the percentage is lower in construction – which are seen as areas for men, but in continental Europe both sectors have higher percentages of females, where STEM jobs are held in higher esteem.

“Females are given more opportunities and it seems normal for women to be in those jobs; we are challenging the stereotypes here.”

Dr Nurse is ideally placed as a role model for black and female success in STEM: after studying biomedical science at university in Birmingham in 1980, she obtained her PhD, became a post-doctoral research fellow, joined the University of Wolverhampton in 1990 and became head of biomedical science and community engagement in 2013.

She was the first woman in biomedical science at Wolverhampton and remains the only black female in that faculty.

“From my youth I loved maths, but I didn’t know what I could do with it. Biology was my favourite subject, so I did it at A-level, with maths and chemistry,” she said.

“I wasn’t put off because it’s what I wanted to do! I wanted to be a researcher so I knew I had to have a PhD.

“My advice to young people is to identify a goal, be confident to work to it and don’t wait for inspiration, but dare to be different. Be determined to be what you want to be. STEM is involved in so many things we do today: construction, engineering, medicine, IT, cars, our phones, etc.

“If young people can continue in STEM subjects, they can build good careers, but they need to come to events like ours to open their eyes to the variety of subjects and opportunities that exist. Also to look for the opportunities wherever they might be.

“We need to show the variety of black people that are in STEM, because our young people need to see people who have done well in STEM that look like them and that they can relate to.

“We can make it in these areas, and the role models need to come forward, recognising their achievements. They are not ‘just a nurse’ or ‘just a whatever’, as they have worked hard and done well to reach the positions they have.”

Rev Francis added: “Presenting role models encourages our young people to aim high, to be clear on their identity and prepare them to work hard. It takes a range of role models from different backgrounds, sectors and careers, males and females, to get the message out there that we can achieve. The more role models we have, the better.”

For more on The Finance for Young People Workshop, search Check out for updates on the WOW event.

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