02 SES 02 C, Workplace Learning in Practice
Initiatives aimed at encouraging more young people into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Subjects and Careers have been gaining momentum (DfES, 2006) and many of these have been developed to help address the skill shortages that currently exist in the UK and beyond in the STEM sectors. Activities have been developed in schools and colleges in the UK as well as wider 'enrichment and engagement' programmes to enthuse and enlighten young people about the exciting opportunities that are linked to STEM. The challenge of measuring the impact of activities and interventions with young people, particularly relating to STEM is well documented (SIOB, 2011). Whilst short term assessments (questionnaires at the beginning and end of activities) can provide a snapshot of the impact of an intervention, the longer term measurement of engagement can be harder to capture.
Since 2009 the Royal Air Force (RAF) has been delivering innovative interventions to increase the number of women in STEM. This includes programmes of work experience in engineering for young women aged 14-19 and while initial feedback has been positive the RAF wanted to find out the longer term impact of this activity.
This paper draws on new research into work experience as part of the author's PhD and considers issues relating to the evaluation and impact measurement in work experience placements, specifically in the research for the RAF. It outlines some of the methods traditionally used to assess how effective a STEM activity or event has been and explores the implications of 'snapshot' assessments compared to longitudinal surveys. The paper focuses on an evaluation of the experiences of over fifty young people aged 14-19 who have undertaken work placements linked to STEM. The difficulties of identifying how career decisions are affected by specific interventions (such as work experience placements) and what constitutes 'impact' is explored (Hughes and Gration, 2009). The issues of how career thinking and learning can be measured and how this is attributed to different activities, people and places is also discussed. The effects of work experience placements in supporting individuals in their future career planning are explored, based on the findings of the evaluation, and the difficulties of making best use of the data to inform intervention programme development is considered.
The paper is contextualised through reference to other work in this area, particularly with regard to experiential learning and career decision making (Law, 2010). The organic nature of the RAF work experience programme is explored. For example, recognition of the fact that careers influencers might be found at home, in schools, in the media and beyond has led to adjustments to the programmes in order to 'influence the influencers'. Despite this and other changes to the programme design, the responses to the survey are consistently positive and the RAF leaves a lasting impression on the individuals who have taken part.
Department for Education and Skills (2006)The STEM Programme Report Hughes Deirdre and Gration Geoff (2009) Evidence and Impact: Careers and guidance-related interventions Law Bill (2010) Building on what we know career-learning thinking for contemporary working life Science and Innovation Observatory (2011) Evaluating STEM initiatives
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