Be Inspired Series
Jim Stewart OBE
What does your job entail?
I am the chairman of Sentinus - one of the leading organisations in the UK promoting science and technology to young people. We work with schools and businesses throughout Northern Ireland to deliver programmes that promote engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Through a wide portfolio of activities we aim to excite young people about STEM, encourage students to follow careers in these subjects and to equip young people with skills for the modern workplace.
How did you get into this line of work?
I have over 30 years experience in the manufacturing and technology sector and always had a keen interest in the STEM industries.
I graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in Chemistry.
After this I joined the Goodyear International Technical Centre in Craigavon where my main role was on R & D projects in industrial rubber products and to provide technical support to Goodyear Plants worldwide.
In 1984 I was transferred abroad and worked for Goodyear in South Africa, Greece, Italy and Turkey.
This was a great experience and allowed me to work with many very highly skilled people from different countries.
Returning home in 1992 I held a number of positions in manufacturing including general manager in Leckpatrick Dairies and general manager in Irish Fertilizers Industries (IFI). In IFI we had a great group of chemists and engineers but the escalating price of gas made it impossible to continue to manufacture fertilizer economically in Ireland.
After IFI I turned my focus on using my knowledge and experience in roles in the public sector. I was initially appointed as chairman of Greenpark Healthcare Trust and then the Northern Health Trust in the review of public administration.
I was also appointed chairman of Warrenpoint Harbour Authority in 2004. I joined Sentinus in 2002 and became chairman in 2004.
Do you have a typical working day?
There really is no typical day in the work that I do but in all my interests I meet and work with chemists, engineers and medics. You can be anywhere around Northern Ireland attending STEM events with either post or primary schools.
Some of our events include the STEM Experience Days — a twoday interactive STEM workshop, Robotics Roadshows or Insight into engineering programmes which offers students a unique opportunity to experience the world of engineering or meeting with medical students involved in projects in primary schools.
I can also be visiting wards in the Trust meeting with doctors and nurses or at Warrenpoint Harbour discussing the two major capital projects that have just been completed.
With all these responsibilities I recognise the need for us to promote the STEM subjects in schools in Northern Ireland so that we can develop the professionals to fill these jobs in the future.
What are the best things about your job?
It’s great to see children get involved in STEM from such a young age. It’s important to switch on the minds of young people to the potential of STEM subjects and careers if we are to develop a knowledge-based economy. It is also very rewarding working with STEM professionals as they show their commitment to excellence in both the private and public sectors.
And the worst?
Last year we delivered training to over 60,000 students in Northern Ireland. We were massively oversubscribed and get frustrated because we could do so much more if it weren’t for budget restrictions. With pressure on the Executive to reduce public expenditure we fear that STEM education could be a victim of cutbacks. I believe that this would be a major mistake.
What personal and professional qualities are essential to work in your role?
I believe it was important for me to have had the qualifications and experience in manufacturing in a number of different sectors. This means that I know the skills that are needed to make the businesses successful.
I know first hand what working in the STEM sector involves and the excellent career benefits it can offer. I also feel that it is really important to have a commitment to the young people of Northern Ireland and to be actively involved in helping them realise their potential.
What do you do in your spare time?
With my current roles I don’t have too much spare time but I enjoy spending time with my family and getting the odd game of golf fitted in when I can. I also completed a Masters degree in Strategic Management at the University of Ulster in 1996.
If you could swap jobs for the day, what would it be and why?
I have been fortunate with my career. I have worked at a very senior level in five countries and in a number of different industries. I have also worked in both public and private sectors.
I really enjoy all that I am involved in at the moment and can’t think of other careers or experiences which would give me the same level of satisfaction.