Work experience

Work experience placements are used with a variety of students, at school and in colleges, to help them learn ‘about’ work, ‘for’ work and ‘through’ work.

As a careers specialist you may be involved in helping learners select their placement, sometimes this can seem particularly daunting in relation to STEM Careers which are often perceived as high risk in terms of health and safety.

The chances are that you already know how STEM is used in a range of careers, directly or indirectly. However, if you are newly qualified or unsure, your local work experience provider or the person responsible for work experience in school will have lists of the placements obviously linked to these areas. If you’re not sure what the jobs are or need a quick reminder, visit the National Careers Service website.

You might like to introduce the young people you work with to the idea that science, technology, engineering and maths are evident in a wide range of careers and they could use Future Morph or the Maths Careers site to get some ideas. The best ways you can support learners is to make sure that you are aware of the careers directly related to STEM and those which are linked more losely. There is the STEM Choices: Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance Pack, which can help you find out more. You could use materials in this pack to offer a group session for those interested in STEM placements to generate ideas.

STEM opportunities

Young people are often unaware of the range of STEM related subjects and careers on offer and tend to make stereotypical choices when selecting work experience placements, and yet an Equal Opportunities Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) report in 2005 indicated that in a survey of 1,300 Year 10 pupils, almost 8 out of 10 girls and almost 6 out of 10 boys said that they would like to try out non-traditional work before making their final job choice. The STEM Subject Choice and Careers, Equality and Diversity Toolkit has more information about under-represented groups and on the actions some organisations have taken to encourage more females, people from black and minority ethnic groups, individuals with special educational needs and others.

STEM subjects are evident in a broad range of careers and some areas have a fair representation of different groups, e.g. females in bio-sciences and Chinese young people in science, engineering and technology professions. So it is important to take care and not make assumptions.

Try something new

Finally, if the young people you are working with are not keen on trying something different and want to do their placement in a familiar environment such as a school or a shop, you could encourage them to think about the STEM careers that link to that workplace. For example, schools will probably have some building services engineering they can explore such as how the building is powered, heated and wired for IT. A placement in a supermarket or clothes shop could link to food science, ICT or science related to textiles and intelligent fabrics. They might start to broaden their ideas from this initial starting point.

Work Experience Placement Pack

STEM Work Experience Placement guides have been produced by the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University. These guides are aimed at STEM subject teachers, careers co-ordinators, work experience organisers, employers, parents and young people to assist them in finding appropriate placements for young people in STEM-related disciplines. This pack explores the issues relating to good quality placements and signposts a wide variety of resources to support this. This pack can be downloaded below.

Other useful websites