Taking Engineering Work Experience Online

Four members of staff stood together smiling in the office

Three weeks before the event…

Suzy: “Is there any chance you could help with our virtual work experience? It’s in three weeks.”

Me: “Of course, what do you want me to do?”

Suzy: “Say a little bit about yourself, how you got to your current role and be on hand to answer any questions.”

Me: “No problem.” Thinks this will be a great opportunity to do something a little different and share my knowledge and experience with a new audience. 

One week passes…

Suzy: “Is there any chance you could present the whole thing, and also maybe draft a presentation about bridges to lead into the group activity?”

Me: “Errrrr, yeah, it’ll give me an opportunity to dust off my bridge knowledge from uni, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

After several days of fitting in frantic researching and writing around the day job I had a presentation ready to go that we were all happy with.

Two days before the event…

Suzy: “It turns out the children aren’t all sat together in one classroom, they’re from four different schools and some of them are taking part from home.”

Me: “Oh right, that’s going to make the group activities a bit tricky.”

The above timeline might make the whole set up sound a bit chaotic but that’s what engineering can be like sometimes, so it was nothing out of the ordinary!

And that is how on Thursday 10 June I found myself presenting a virtual work experience workshop to year 10 students from Colne Valley High, Upper Batley High, Westborough High and Batley Girls High, with excellent assistance from Fran Creaser, Ella Barker and Suzy Hodgson.

The day was a huge success. I talked about what Civil Engineering is, the different specialist teams we have within highways at Kirklees Council, what mine and my colleagues current roles entail and our paths into civil engineering.  We also talked about ways into the industry such as the Institution of Civil Engineering (ICE) accredited apprentice program that we run at Kirklees Council, of which Ella, one of our current apprentices is following (and is in fact our apprentice of the year). This was all finished off with my presentation about bridges. 

The afternoon was where the fun began – making bridges out of spaghetti and marshmallows! There were some great creations from the students, some of whom had definitely put some prep work in to make sure they created a strong bridge. Some colleagues in the office joined in too, but some of them were more interested in eating the marshmallows instead of using them to hold their bridge together!

Our final group activity had to be turned into a group discussion instead but did lead to some great suggestions. The overall lesson learned was that sometimes it’s good to just ask someone who knows the answer, look up the answer or take inspiration and use elements from something that you’ve done before. Not all engineering is about building the biggest and the best, sometimes it’s just about getting the job done.

What started out as quite a daunting afternoon for me – we’re all used to virtual meetings now but virtual work experience was something else entirely – was really fun and massively rewarding when we saw the students creations, and the attempts to break the bridges by piling more and more objects onto them! 

Hopefully we’ll have inspired at least one young person to think about pursuing a career in Engineering, but even if we’ve had the opposite effect and ruled it out for some, then in my mind it was still worthwhile as we’ve helped to concentrate minds on their future choices.

How I got here

It was a careers event when I was in year 10 that switched my attention from Cartography to Civil Engineering so I’m always very keen to be involved in these events (I also attend events in primary schools to talk about what my role entails) so hopefully somewhere down the line, I will have inspired another me!

Bring on the next one!

Louise, Principal Engineer