Giving pupils an insight into engineering and science provides mentors with valuable opportunities to improve their communications skills and network with other professionals in the industry.
When you have left school and embarked on the early stages of your engineering career, spending time with a bunch of 16 and 17-year-old students for a work experience event might not sound like the most promising way of spending your time. However, mentors from major companies including GSK have found quite the opposite when they worked on an Industrial Cadets programme hosting over 120 students from 60 schools for a week’s work experience at GSK’s Ware, Harlow and Stevenage sites.
The Industrial Cadets programme
Industrial Cadets is run by charity EDT (Engineering Development Trust) and provides an insight into industry for students aged 11-19 years old, whilst simultaneously equipping them with the necessary skills for their future careers. The students, who were exploring both engineering and science careers, graduated at the end of the week as Silver Level Industrial Cadets.
Over 100 GSK staff gave their time to the scheme, resulting in a week of opportunities for the students to see many areas of the company. They were taken on a journey from molecule to medicine: from getting hands-on with the drug discovery process at Stevenage, to learning about drug manufacture, inspecting a boiler the size of a train and viewing giant coolers from the rooftop at Ware, to finding out more about powder handling and packaging of some of the recently approved medicines at Harlow.
They also enjoyed a ‘Meet the Experts’ session where they had the chance to speak to a range of staff across scientific and engineering disciplines to get a flavour of the range of careers on offer. To achieve Silver level accreditation, the Industrial Cadets had to complete over 30 hours of industrial experience along with a final presentation to GSK staff and their peers.
Become a mentor during your own industrial placement
Among those from an engineering background who took part in the mentoring was Lorenzo Cioni, an industrial placement student with GSK from Loughborough University. Lorenzo’s day-to-day work is in the production engineering facilities at GSK, in particular working in the tablet manufacturing facilities, keeping them running and continually seeking to improve operations, quality and health and safety aspects. He was part of a team tasked to develop and deliver an engineering workshop on the Industrial Cadets programme, focusing on the project management aspects of being an engineer.
“The workshop that was designed involved the students in devising plans for the construction of a new manufacturing facility. The students were put into teams and given team roles to complete within the project. The two and a half hour session was designed to give them an insight into the fact that engineering is not just about technical expertise but is also about teamwork and taking forward projects as a team, that interpersonal skills and collaboration are as important as technical expertise.”
Lorenzo found the prospect of devising and running the workshop challenging.
“I think the idea was that being on industrial placement from university I would be able to understand their needs and interests. Starting with a blank sheet of paper was a little daunting but it has been an excellent experience in communication,” he explains. “Devising a method of getting across ideas in a way that was engaging and effective has involved creativity and standing in front of a group of students, seeing them engage with the project and benefit from it has been very satisfying. Feedback was very positive and we understand that ours was one of the students’ favourite workshops.”
What you can gain from being a mentor
The experience has developed Lorenzo’s thinking about working with students at school and he has since volunteered to be part as a team working on another EDT programme, mentoring a science project as an extra curricular activity in a school.
“I have realised that giving students an insight into engineering and science, not only helps them in their careers but also provides me with valuable opportunities to improve my communications skills and to think clearly about how to explain what we do as engineers,” he highlights.
Jane Lin is a GSK engineer who took part in the Industrial Cadets week. She is a process engineer at GSK having joined their graduate programme in Sep 2013.
“I was impressed that all the students seemed very well engaged with the activities, they had lots of new ideas and had the ability to ‘think outside the box’. They will have gained enormously from the week, not only by having the chance to see a working environment, but also having learned skills of teamwork, communication, organisation and adaptability,” she says.
Jane also sees that working with students is a two-way benefit. Working on the week has allowed her to meet people from other parts of the company and allowed her to look at engineering from a different angle from her day-to-day job.
“I have gained useful skills in mentoring people and inspiring the students about the possibilities available within engineering has made me aware of the enthusiasm I have for being a graduate engineer and the pride I have in working for such a fantastic company.
“I will continue to get involved with the Industrial Cadets scheme and other similar initiatives. Not only is it rewarding on a personal level, but taking the time to encourage the next generation of engineers is greatly revered by companies I may wish to apply for in the future. It shows that I am proactive and committed to the future of the UK engineering industry. Leading and organising workshops develops the skills that will hopefully help me make it to a leading engineering position in my future career,” she concludes.