Work Shadowing

Nicholas Hill - Chief Executive Officer

By: Nicholas Hill
Chief Executive Officer

31st January 2019

Home » Work experience

Talking to some sixth formers doing STEM subjects in school recently brought to my attention the issue of work experience or work shadowing for the first time. Work shadowing is a means of helping students understand what the world of work is like, and perhaps also learn something specific about their subject area of interest, through one week spent in the workplace. Schools are apparently pushed by the government to support this, so the practice has become quite commonplace. Our nearest school puts one week aside in the lower sixth form for work shadowing every year, after exams.

It turns out to be surprisingly difficult to find an engineering or technology company that engages in or supports work experience in this area (Cambridge), in spite of the plethora of such companies. It appears that many companies either state explicitly that they don’t offer such placements, don’t respond to requests at all or gave a flat ‘no’. Some say that they do support work shadowing, but only for children of their own employees. I have no idea whether this experience is typical of employers in all sectors, but I rather doubt it, given the numbers of students finding places.

All this made me consider Plextek’s policy on work experience – which has historically been aligned with the experiences I’d heard about, turning down any request for reasons that presumably seemed sensible enough. While supporting work experience undoubtedly generates some additional administrative load, and will put a slight ‘drag’ on the productivity of whichever staff are being shadowed, it seems to me that this is something that engineering and technology companies should be doing.

I’d be the first to complain about the poor numbers of students studying STEM subjects at University, especially in electronics (see my previous blog on the subject). If work experience is a way of showing a few sixth formers what an exciting, interesting career this can be, we should be grasping the opportunity with both hands, and doing a full-on selling job!

I’ve often felt that a problem with electronics is that it is becoming increasingly obscure to those on the outside. Why choose to study something that you have no understanding of or exposure to? Well here’s a way of demystifying it a little.

Last summer we accepted a small number of work shadowing placements for the first time. We gained some good insight into how to engage with sixth formers in an effective way without putting too much drain on internal resources. Next year we’ll be putting more formal arrangements in place with our local sixth form school.

Talking to some sixth formers doing STEM subjects in school recently brought to my attention the issue of work experience or work shadowing for the first time. Work shadowing is a means of helping students understand what the world of work is like, and perhaps also learn something specific about their subject area of interest, through one week spent in the workplace. Schools are apparently pushed by the government to support this, so the practice has become quite commonplace. Our nearest school puts one week aside in the lower sixth form for work shadowing every year, after exams.

It turns out to be surprisingly difficult to find an engineering or technology company that engages in or supports work experience in this area (Cambridge), in spite of the plethora of such companies. It appears that many companies either state explicitly that they don’t offer such placements, don’t respond to requests at all or gave a flat ‘no’. Some say that they do support work shadowing, but only for children of their own employees. I have no idea whether this experience is typical of employers in all sectors, but I rather doubt it, given the numbers of students finding places.

All this made me consider Plextek’s policy on work experience – which has historically been aligned with the experiences I’d heard about, turning down any request for reasons that presumably seemed sensible enough. While supporting work experience undoubtedly generates some additional administrative load, and will put a slight ‘drag’ on the productivity of whichever staff are being shadowed, it seems to me that this is something that engineering and technology companies should be doing.

I’d be the first to complain about the poor numbers of students studying STEM subjects at University, especially in electronics (see my previous blog on the subject). If work experience is a way of showing a few sixth formers what an exciting, interesting career this can be, we should be grasping the opportunity with both hands, and doing a full-on selling job!

I’ve often felt that a problem with electronics is that it is becoming increasingly obscure to those on the outside. Why choose to study something that you have no understanding of or exposure to? Well here’s a way of demystifying it a little.

Last summer we accepted a small number of work shadowing placements for the first time. We gained some good insight into how to engage with sixth formers in an effective way without putting too much drain on internal resources. Next year we’ll be putting more formal arrangements in place with our local sixth form school.

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