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Xaar: Inspiring future generations of engineers

Learning and Development leader Helen Clifton talks us through Xaar’s commitment to nurturing the talent of today and tomorrow...

Every Wednesday afternoon, a dedicated team from Xaar heads out of the office and into a local primary school, where they run a STEM club for 14 children. For the last 15 years, these popular sessions have been one of the many initiatives that are driven by our ambition to put people firmly at the heart of what we do. From inspiring future generations of engineers to nurturing and developing the talent we already have on board, it’s this people-centric ethos that shapes so much of the group’s strategy.

“Working with the local community and nurturing our existing talent are key elements of our business resilience and growth strategy,” says Helen Clifton, who is Learning and Development Manager at Xaar. “I’m a big believer that if you don’t keep people at the core of your business, you won’t have a successful business.”

The success of the STEM club for primary aged children led Helen to launch Xaar’s Early Careers Programme in September 2022 for secondary education activities and there are already multiple initiatives in place. In addition to running the weekly STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) club for a group of enthusiastic 11-year-olds, the group funds the kit for each project.

“Wednesday’s club involves everything from building robotic walking ducks, to radios and electronic games,” explains Helen. “The uptake is huge, and the feedback fantastic. It’s such a success that other schools are now approaching us too.

“The sessions leave children buzzing, and it’s great to see their confidence and curiosity grow. Whether or not they choose a career in STEM, they are developing skills for life.”

Putting STEM in the spotlight

Xaar also invites students to visit our Huntingdon site for a day, where they tour the site and take part in activities designed to spark an interested in technology-focused careers. This outreach work continues through secondary education, with STEM days for 14 and 15-year-olds.

“We recently joined forces with educational charity The Smallpeice Trust, to fund and host a workshop for 50 students,” says Helen. “They built fully-functioning speakers, which they got to take home. In the summer, we’ll fund the transport to take a 60-strong cohort to the Big Bang science fair in Birmingham. We’ll arm them with goody bags, and give them an inspiring day out.

“We also give regular career talks, so students know what STEM and engineering mean in the world of work. University isn’t an option for everyone, but we talk to them about the value of apprenticeships. Ultimately, it’s about highlighting opportunities and making a difference to young lives.”

A positive social impact

Of course, Xaar’s investment in people continues through Sixth Form and beyond. The group sponsors an A Level student on the Arkwright Engineering scholarship scheme, and, across the Group, employs six apprentices in total – three of whom are within Xaar, and three at FFEI. We also work closely with universities, offering a year-in-industry placement for degree students.

“It’s all about having a positive social impact and inspiring future generations of engineers – I like to call our strategy a grow-your-own model,” says Helen. “With the current skills shortage, it’s now more vital than ever that organisations join forces to ignite a passion for STEM. That’s why early career development is one of the main pillars in our ESG Roadmap to 2030.”

Nurturing today’s talent

Importantly, Xaar’s people-focused emphasis isn’t just about inspiring future engineers – it’s about fostering today’s talent too. To this end, Helen has launched several initiatives, including a Learning at Work (LAW) Week. This annual event involves a series of 90-minute workshops, plus talks from the senior exec team.

“Our CEO kicked off LAW week last year with a talk on his journey to the top,” says Helen. “The team were curious to hear how he carved out his career, and asked some great questions.”

Another exciting area of development is community-based learning. Xaar is rolling out partnerships with Ethical Angel, a platform that offers employees the opportunities to hone new skills while supporting charitable enterprises.

“When an employee identifies the skill they want to develop, they select a project of their choice,” explains Helen. “It really connects people with their learning, because they are doing something tangible, in an area they feel passionate about while also supporting the community.”

Inspiring leaders

Helen has also created a leadership programme, called Inspiring EPIICC Leaders (we wanted our learning activities and development programmes to weave into our company values) This aims to foster and develop those working in management, from an embryonic level through to the C Suite.

“We run a series of workshops on key topics,” she explains. “Our Senior Exec team are also hosting regular Lunchtime Learnings. These are short sessions of bite-sized learning, specific to management. We want to develop great leaders, who can inspire their teams, and it’s down to us to give them the toolkit to do it.

“Ultimately, whatever their job, we need to ensure that every individual here at Xaar has the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to excel in their roles. It’s about continuously developing our talent, and ensuring people feel cared for. It’s vital we nurture what we have, while also keeping an eye on those youngsters who will be part of our future. It’s about putting people at the heart of our business.”

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