Pre-16 School Work Experience and Civil Engineering Careers

A report by Hamill, L. and Hodgkinson, L., Proceedings of ICE – Civil Engineering, 163, pp.131-136

This report examines results of questionnaires and interviews conducted with UK education-business partnerships (EBPs), university students and engineering companies and consultants, questioning the extent to which pre-16 work experience (WEX) affects recruitment of young people into civil engineering courses and careers. The recruitment shortage in civil engineering is outlined, as well as an overview of the benefits of providing suitable WEX placements, as well as limitations in doing so. These include poor understanding among students of what ‘engineering’ might encompass; the differences between trades and professional careers, for example, such that their placement choice and experience may not meet their expectations.

Among the main findings are the following:

  • EBPs report that the availability of suitable work experience placements generally outstrips demand, especially professional placements (only 3-9% of placements were in engineering). The lack of girls requesting and taking up placements, and the difficulty of determining whether placements actually affect future career choices were also mentioned.
  • 22% of the 153 civil engineering undergraduates had undertaken pre-16 work experience that related directly to their eventual studies, which suggests that companies have some success in their aim to improve recruitment and justifying their investment of resources in taking WEX pupils. 51% stated that they chose their placement as it related to their career choice at that time (45% had not decided their future career by Year 10).  24% had requested, but not been allocated, an engineering placement, reflecting the difficulty for providers and brokers in meeting placement demands.
  • While 41% of students overall were ‘very happy’ with their placements, 65% of those with a civil engineering placement were ‘very happy’, perhaps to be expected given the correspondence with their future career, but also explained to be due to the design of these placements, which encompassed a range of activities to improve students’ understandings of what an engineering career might entail. Providing such placements is thus likely to increase student motivation to pursue an engineering career.
  • Of the companies accepting WEX students, the most frequently cited reason for doing so was to improve recruitment to the sector. The consultants reported largely positive outcomes of receiving students. The remaining ten companies gave four positive, five neutral and one negative response, suggesting that consultants’ office-based working conditions make it easier to accommodate pupils.

The authors conclude that quality work experience placements have a positive role to play in increasing recruitment to the engineering industry, but that these must be well suited to the abilities of students. Quality WEX placements can raise the profile of engineering and increase awareness of the range of careers available.

Pre-16 school work experience and civil engineering careers – full article