Girl doing virtual work experience

JM launches first virtual work experience programme

5th August 2020

Last month, with the support of social mobility charity, Speakers for Schools, JM welcomed 115 students from across the UK to its first online work experience programme. Students learned a wide range of new skills and gained insight into how science and technology is used to make the world cleaner and healthier.

When COVID-19 struck, students were faced with the reality of an entirely disrupted education that would lead to an unpredictable future. A recent study1 revealed that almost half of current undergraduates in the UK believe the pandemic has had a negative effect on their chances of finding a job. And more than 61% of employers in the UK had cancelled their physical work experience placements1. JM was keen to find a solution that would open options to an even wider group of students than previously, as location was no longer a factor.

In July 2020, with the support of Speakers for Schools, we ran a virtual programme: ‘Make the world cleaner and healthier with Johnson Matthey’. We welcomed a diverse group of 115 students aged 14-18 onto our first ever online work experience week. Speakers for Schools is a social mobility charity, supporting students from a range of different backgrounds, and this helped to ensure we worked with a mix of people in terms of gender, ethnicity, life experiences and social needs.

Unlike our normal placements, where students would often shadow employees, we developed a programme of content specifically for the students, offering a mix of expert presentations and interactive activities. Students had the chance to work as individuals and in small groups, allowing them to develop confidence in their own abilities and as team players. At the end, 80% said they felt very or extremely confident in their ability to succeed in the science industry, compared to 60% at the start of the week.

The week included a special session with our Chief Executive Robert MacLeod. Students were pleased to have the rare opportunity to hear about a day in the life of a FTSE 100 Chief Executive, and posed their own thoughtful questions for Robert to answer such as, “How do you realise if an opportunity is important or not?” and “What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome so far?”.

Our approach meant students acquired new skills as well as new information. When asked what they learned about themselves, 70% of students said they realised they could perform well outside their comfort zone, while 58% recognised their ability to learn new things easily. The success of our pilot was grounded in the JM employees involved, the range of topics covered and the variation of activities. In total, 44 JM staff contributed to the online programme, each with a different personality, job, approach and background. It was important to present the students with a variety of people to increase their chances relating to someone in STEM, or identifying a role model. The sessions covered the following topics:

  • Sustainability
  • Employability skills
  • The automotive industry’s transition towards cleaner solutions
  • Technology and industrial solutions to achieving more with fewer natural resources
  • How industry can contribute to help people live longer and healthier lives
  • Product life cycle analysis
  • Decision making
  • The role of the Chief Executive
  • The social value of science
  • Diversity and inclusion in JM

Director of Communications, Sally Jones, said:

“COVID-19 has forced us to think creatively about many things across our business, including how we could continue to help young people understand more about careers in science. We are thrilled to work with Speakers for Schools who have developed a fantastic tool for students and businesses to connect virtually, something that’s especially important at the moment. The online programme allows us to reach students in areas where we don’t operate, and connect with students who might find it difficult to access our sites for various reasons. I’d like to thank all the people within JM who put so much effort into making this week a big success, as well as the participants who were so engaged and willing to learn. Our focus now will be on finding ways to expand on this success so even more of the scientists, engineers and other talents of the future can be exposed to this great learning opportunity. Of course, we also look forward to welcoming students back onto our sites when it’s safe to do so.”
JM is committed to improving access to high quality science education. We are targeting learners at a socio-economic disadvantage, to help them identify more positively with science through improved knowledge, self-confidence, attainment and attitudes. With our online work experience programme, we hope to educate, inspire and connect students to JM people whom they can relate to through shared ambitions and values – all from the safety and ease of their homes.

1Sutton Trust: ‘COVID-19 and Social Mobility Impact Brief #5: Graduate Recruitment and Access to the Workplace’ by Erica Holt-White and Rebecca Montacute.

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