Anne Okafor: Using STEM to inspire a younger audience
Anne Okafor MCIOB is a Scotland-based Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) Construction Ambassador. She uses her experience and story to inspire young people toward a career within the construction industry. CIOB recently partnered with STEM Learning, giving members the chance to sign up as Construction Ambassadors and benefit from a well-established platform for connecting with schools and colleges.
By the time people reach university, it is often too late to inspire them toward a compelling career in construction. Young adults often have their minds made up about the direction in which they want to go.
I know this to be true through my own life experience. By the time I reached college in my mid-20s, I had quit my job and moved more than four hours from my home in northern Scotland at a moment’s notice – there was nothing turning me away from a future in construction.
Fast forward some time and it was even more evident when I floated between colleges and universities delivering talks and virtual presentations as a Construction Ambassador – something I couldn’t have imagined myself doing earlier in my career – and that quickly made me realise we need to find a way of targeting children across Scotland at a much younger age.
Children begin forming future ideas even at five or six years old so, together with parents and teachers, we can make a real difference in promoting the benefits of working in construction, eventually helping to address the skills gap across the industry.
CIOB’s partnership with STEM Learning allows Construction Ambassadors to reach a wider audience of children. We can now speak to young people earlier than ever and learn about not only what they want but also what the barriers surrounding the industry are from their point of view so we can put things in place to support that.
The online platform is perfectly user-friendly and gives you a real sense of recognition for your contribution. It is simple to add my hours record the activities I have done and track the number of participants I have reached. The search browser makes it simple to filter schools that are close to my home and my work so I can really make a difference within my local community.
In a global industry, it can be hard to feel significant and feel like you have made any sort of contribution but I now take great pleasure in being able to say I have reached more than 15,000 participants during the last two years – and that is the impact of just one person.
While I am not trying to sell construction as a magical wonderland, I focus on three main things when I speak to young people: Opportunity, variety, and legacy.
Opportunity to make money and solve global problems like net zero and decarbonisation. In my experience, young people today are far more mission-focused than older generations. They want to have a real sense of purpose behind what they do.
I also talk about the huge variety of roles that are available – roles that are suitable to all different kinds of personalities whether it be hands-on, remote, digital, or site-based – the list is endless.
Finally, legacy – the opportunity to change the communities we live in, change people’s lives by making things better and change what the world looks like by building homes and nice buildings.
As well as helping young people throughout Scotland, becoming a Construction Ambassador has skyrocketed my own professional and personal development. I left school without qualifications and even endured a spell of homelessness, but I am now thriving as a Construction Planner and using my story to inspire the next generation.
When I first signed up, I would not have gone on camera at all. I had delivered in-person presentations before, but I resented the thought of being on camera. Obviously, COVID-19 helped me overcome that fear, but the Ambassador program has taught me to enhance my presentation skills and become far more adaptable so I can talk about the subject and tailor the information to different audiences. It has also helped me to learn different perspectives and solutions to challenges people are facing as well as how people can overcome those barriers.
Personal development aside, another perk of being both a CIOB Construction Ambassador and a STEM Ambassador is it really helps my company in terms of meeting its corporate social responsibilities – there are benefits for both the employer and the employee.
The role of a CIOB Construction Ambassador goes a long way in giving back to the Scottish community, having a strong influence on young people and ultimately shaping an industry in which we can all be proud to work. We need as many positive influences as possible. For more information and details on how to sign up, visit: