This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
On Friday 19 August I went to a meeting at the Science Council with the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF), an organisation which helps school children (approximately 650 this year) from low-income backgrounds get into high quality universities and jobs. Their work relies on both a network of mentors (who email support and advice through the decision periods around AS and A-level) and also organisations being willing to take in these students for a week of work experience before their A-level year. In law, banking and accountancy, we were told that securing these placements was easy. But in science and engineering, it’s a very different matter.
This is a cause for concern. David Johnston, the SMF’s Chief Executive, told us that when they try to place pupils with a genuine career interest in science or engineering, they cannot persuade enough organisations to provide placements for all of them. The age of the students and issues related to health and safety are cited as key reasons. As a result, the remaining students are placed with consultancy companies like Accenture, organisations in the financial sector or London law firms (although the scheme also runs in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Leeds). Many of these companies are very eager to offer these pupils shadowing places, and provide them with a structured and beneficial experience. The danger here is that these high-achieving pupils – all of whom are predicted ABB at A-level – could be put off staying in science both by this process and by company loyalty, when they have to potential to be a major contributor to the UK’s future intellectual capital through a career in STEM. At 17, this experience could have a huge impact on their future choices.
These pupils are exactly the kind of talented individuals that STEM organisations should be looking to encourage and recruit in the future. It’s concerning that STEM organisations could be missing out on some of our top students in the future, as a result of the industry finding it difficult to support this scheme. The scheme has shown to be good for the pupil, industry more broadly and potentially beneficial for the employer too. In previous years, over 80% of respondents to the employer evaluation form said the student(s) they hosted were of the calibre they would look to employ after university. Arguably, this scheme could be seen as simply ‘doing the right thing’, but considered more broadly it also fits in with current government policy paradigms as set out in the Social Mobility Strategy and Education White Paper.
So is this criticism of the industry fair? Is a week too short for STEM organisation to effectively engage? Can the health and safety barriers be overcome? Are concerns around the age of SMF students a genuine barrier to science and engineering companies? Do these barriers alone explain why banks and law and accountancy firms have been so much more willing to help the SMF? And if so, how can they be removed? Let us know what you think.
To find out more about the SMF visit http://www.socialmobility.org.uk/. If you’d like to become a mentor, or think your organisation could help offer internships next year and in the future, please get in touch with David Johnston, Chief Executive of the SMF on 020 7953 4007.