Work experience as STEM inspiration

In the last few weeks you may have noticed a few more youthful than usual faces at work or in your local shop, hairdresser etc,  as many teenagers have been out and about doing work experience.  I am sure that for many the routines, customs, hours and interactions will have been an eye-opener.  But for a few it will also have been a chance to get an in-depth experience of the types of careers that studying STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) can open up.  Great work is being done by organisations like Thinktank in Birmingham and  STEMNET, Big Bang, the British Science Association and FutureMorph across the country to excite youngsters about great career opportunities in STEM.  They variously work through fairs and festivals, web-based information, hands-on activities in schools, science centres and at fairs.  However, should these organisations, together with business,  professional bodies, schools, universities and others work to enable more young people to experience of STEM in a real work setting?  The experience of two 15-year-olds over the last 2 weeks, entirely in their words, certainly persuades me we should:

Rhiannon and Christine’s work experience:

‘Between us, we have been to three different companies involving STEM, including Goodrich Actuation Systems, Atkins, and Daden Limited.  Each company had something to different to offer us, allowing us to truly understand the world of science.

Goodrich Actuation Systems is an aeronautical engineering company in Wolverhampton. It offered examples of the whole engineering process, from design to manufacturing and testing; this meant that a wide range of skills were required. Maths and physics were needed to calculate the performance of the product and the properties the material would need in order to withstand the stress. However, creative skills were also used during the design process.

Daden Limited specialises in immersive visual analytics and virtual realities. The week I spent there involved using a brand new data visualisation software called Datascape, in which I analysed, compared, photographed, recorded and wrote about various types of data – including data collected from Twitter, Boating Competitions and Protein data. The skills that I mainly needed to use were my creative analytical skills and ICT skills, which enabled me to make interesting comparisons with the data. The whole experience helped me to see how new technologies can be used in everyday situations, especially within the social media.

Atkins is a large civil engineering company of which I have been working in the geotechnical engineering section. Sitting with a different person everyday has allowed me to witness and experience many different projects and aspects of the industry. For example, I have worked on foundations for railway line cable supports – (which was more fun than it sounds!), and had to look at multiple factors that affected the design, including the geology, slope dimensions and flood risk of the area.


In truth, science in school isn’t always that engaging, but going out into the real world and experiencing it first-hand, being physically able to apply our knowledge, has helped us to understand the importance of STEM, because it not only affects life within a particular industry, but everyone’s daily life. It is often hard to visualise the application for things that we learn in a school environment as we don’t get the opportunity to apply and utilise our knowledge. These experiences have allowed us to try out unique software that we would otherwise not be given the chance to use.

Our work experience placements have encouraged and inspired us to continue our studies of the sciences and maths into A Levels, because there is such a huge variety of careers that involve them.’

Pam Waddell, Christine Turner and Rhiannon Davies