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Giving young people from diverse backgrounds a taste of STEM

Giving young people from diverse backgrounds a taste of STEM

Craig Carnegie, Research Fellow at WMG

"Providing a great work experience can open students’ eyes to what’s out there, empowering them to consider careers they may never have known existed. My team is working to develop an employability programme for young people – one that can be used as a benchmark by others across The University of Warwick and beyond."

Craig Carnegie

Work experience is one of those things you reminisce about later in life.

Yet all too often, opportunities for young people differ greatly in both quantity and quality.

Already stretched to the limit, schools and teachers often rely on parents to arrange placements themselves; hence many students join a family member or family friend in their workplace for a week.

The Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance require all 16-year-olds to have experienced at least one placement, however the ad hoc nature of placements means some children from less privileged backgrounds face huge hurdles.

After all, it’s typically far easier for a student from a stable, middle-class background to find somewhere illuminating and inspiring to spend a working week than it is for a child in care.

It’s this inequality that has driven me, and continues to drive me, to level the playing field as much as possible.

My journey in this area began just after lockdown, when I heard that the EY Foundation’s Beyond Your Limits programme, along with the Social Inclusion team at Warwick, were looking for people to help host work experience students here at the University.

Volunteering, initially through this and later with a similar Nuffield Research Placements employability scheme, seemed like a great opportunity to get involved with the community again.

Thanks to my role at WMG, I’m acutely aware of how rewarding and enjoyable a career in STEM can be.

But I also know that young people are far more likely to pursue one if they’re engaged in the subjects from an early age, meaning work experience is a critical opportunity to seize their interest.

The volunteering was very fulfilling, so I wanted to do something more involved to really take control of our offering to students.


That’s why I applied for Research Culture funding with a plan to use the money to build a team of five, and provide them with personal development and safeguarding training.

Culture was a big part of this process.

I brought in an external development consultant to run one-on-one courses for each individual and hosted larger workshops for the wider department.

Those sessions covered things like academic promotions, how to influence people who can help you progress, and how to increase diversity.

Next, I set about creating a work experience programme that provided the most enrichment possible.

The programme is tailored in three different models for three different kinds of students:

  • Independent: For those with more skills and confidence who can be set free on a task
  • Guided: For those who may be unfamiliar with STEM or working environments and need more support
  • Blended: A combination of the two
Craig and the team

From the very start, it was important that the programme is open access.

I have created a report; a template for anyone and everyone to follow, almost like a good practice guide.

Now, everyone in WMG, Warwick or any other university can use the model and make a timetable of their own from it.

There’s been plenty of work to get here – setting up a work experience programme requires a lot of admin, safeguarding and training.

It also involves getting people to give you their time - which can be an intimidating thing for some to commit to – but thankfully our delivery of the programme has been fantastic.

What’s made it somewhat easier is the nature of WMG as a workplace; we have a large pool of resource here, so many areas of expertise and a lot of equipment.

But there’s still lots more to do, starting with my plan to apply for the next round of Research Culture funding.

That would help us expand the team and develop the employability schemes we offer across WMG – which would be timely, as schools are screaming out for more work experience placement opportunities.

My hope is that our written guidance allows many more people to take the ball and run with it – so we can all give many more young people a first-hand experience of STEM and inspire the next generation.