Technical careers fair shines a light in Belfast

25 October 2017

The IOP’s Technical Careers Fair, held in Belfast earlier this month and aimed at GCSE and A-level students, has been widely welcomed for its clear advice to students – and their teachers – on the many technical career paths open to school-leavers.

Technical careers fair Belfast


The genesis of the fair was the Institute’s desire to increase engagement with physics apprentices and technicians, to be more inclusive and to bridge a gap in the market for practical dialogue between potential apprentices and employers. The event was sold out.

Hosting the fair at Belfast’s Metropolitan College (BMC) made sense, but was also a challenge: the college runs a healthy apprenticeship programme – but none in the sciences.  The college’s current non-science apprenticeship programme chimes with national figures.  In the UK there were around 509,400 apprenticeships in the academic year 2015/16, but of these only a disappointing 470 were science apprenticeships.

So for the college, IOP and employers, the day was about exploring whether or not there is demand for clear pathways to technical apprenticeships from school-leavers and employers alike. In front of an audience of over three hundred 15- to 18-year-old students, from a mixture of 10 state, grammar and independent schools, the question of two-year technical apprenticeships was examined and exemplified – and the answer to the question was an emphatic Yes.

Technical careers fair 2

The fair was opened by Dr Stephen Farry of BMC, followed by a number of invited speakers who had themselves progressed through practical vocational routes. Other speakers included a technical training provider and an employer – and a total of 18 employers exhibited.

Christine Thorogood, a recent apprentice at the National Physical Laboratory, talked about why she chose the technical apprenticeship route, and about the qualification and range of skills she has gained during her training and what her options are for the future. 

David Homfray started his career as a technician and worked his way up at UKAEA. David holds a CEng and CPhys with the IOP and has recently been appointed a Fellow. He talked about his training and successful career path. Both speakers were inspirational.

One question asked of the young audience was: “Use three words to describe your day”. And resoundingly, “interesting” was the word that topped the poll.

Feedback on the day was overwhelmingly positive. Students found it very informative, and employers were surprised by the genuine interest and enthusiasm that the students showed, delighting their teachers.

Vishanti Fox, IOP careers & CPD manager, said: “This fair has demonstrated a huge desire from employers, students and teachers in Northern Ireland to seriously consider science and technical career routes. We will continue to support and lead the way in this area.

“Events like this are a fantastic way for IOP to facilitate employer and apprentice connections.  And as a direct result of this technical careers fair, two of the exhibiting companies are now going to work together on a technical apprentice project.

“And personally, I, and the Irish team, absolutely loved being part of something that makes a real difference.”

The IOP now plans to run a similar technical careers fair in Scotland, with details to follow.