Toolkit launched to promote DiscoverChemEng message at school careers fairs

Article by Jo Cox

The new Young People’s and Student Engagement Team at IChemE, led by Jo Cox, are developing resources and initiatives to attract and develop an extensive talent pool of future chemical engineers, kicking off with a careers fair toolkit to support members working with schools

COMPARED to other STEM outreach activities, where students are often self-selecting, careers fairs are vital for engaging with that pool of potential students who have not considered a career in chemical engineering. These can be students who have the correct skills and a passion for STEM subjects but perhaps have never considered chemical engineering as an option, often because they don’t really know what it is. A careers fair is therefore an excellent avenue to meet students, parents, form tutors, and careers teachers and should not be overlooked as a primary opportunity to spark interest and address any misconceptions about the profession.

Hints and tips for attending a school careers fair

First steps

School careers fairs see schools invite in various industries and professions, especially local industries, to share information about how young people can access those professions. If you’ve never been to one, why not make contact with your local secondary school or college and invite yourself along? Email the school and ask to be put in contact with the head of sixth form (if appropriate) or the CEIAG (Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance) lead. For UK members, consider reaching out to see what schools are doing for National Careers Week (4-9 March 2024) and British Science Week (8-17 March 2024).

Ask colleagues to share their school careers fairs experience and talk to those with teenage children who have attended careers fairs in their capacity as a parent to get a view from the “other side”. What works? What doesn’t? What could be improved?

Once you’re confident you know what it is required of you, then the next stage is to select your school careers fair and get booked in. IChemE are starting to get numerous requests from schools for professionals to attend their careers fairs, so please get in touch if you are looking to get involved. You will generally find that schools are very keen to have you on board.

Preparation

Make sure you know how much space you will have at the careers fair, what age your audience is, and how many people are likely to be there. Find out what time you can arrive to set up.

Consider going along in pairs. Contact others in your member group to see who can support. If you can persuade a chemical engineering student to go along too, then even better as they can give a real-time view of what the course involves.

Make sure you have up to date information about the types of course and routes into chemical engineering, as well as being able to share entry requirements. For those who have not yet chosen post-16 options, be sure to stress the importance of maths. Current entry requirements and alternative routes can be found on the UCAS website1 which is where students themselves will be sourcing their information.

Think about your audience. Teenagers are not always the most talkative and may lack the confidence to approach you – especially if they have no idea what chemical engineering is. Think about a thought-provoking opener to get them to come to you. Avoid closed questions, especially where the answer could be “No”, it is a surefire way to lose your audience. Examples of closed questions include “Do you want to be a chemical engineer?” or “Do you know what chemical engineering is?”.

Instead, consider an easy opener, such as “What is your favourite subject?”, “What is the major global problem you’d be interested in solving?”, or “Which career combines a love of STEM subjects with a passion for creativity?”.

Share your own role and passions but enable young people to see the breadth of career opportunities available for those who take on a chemical engineering degree

When you’re there

Introduce yourself to the other presenters and make sure they know you. Support each other so that you can direct students and their parents to the correct stand based on their ambitions (but don’t be too keen to move them onwards).

Watch out for the parents. Be mindful of those parents who have preconceived ideas about what their offspring ought to be considering. You might need to be prepared to challenge their misconceptions and win them over, too.

Think beyond your own role. By all means share your own role and passions but enable young people to see the breadth of career opportunities available for those who take on a chemical engineering degree. Find out what their interests are and go from there.

Persuade them to explore more. All the new materials have QR codes which point to the new DiscoverChemEng website (see above). Make sure you have explored this beforehand, so you know what information is on there and encourage them to take a look. If possible, have a laptop/screen set up so that they can see it there and then.

If you have space, why not consider taking along a very simple hands-on activity or quiz to engage your audience? Check in advance with the school to see if they can give you more space.

If you are representing a local industry, consider what else you can offer the student – work experience, site visits etc.

Follow-up

Maintain a relationship with the school. Ask for feedback and see how else you can get involved.

The new resources

What resources are in the new DiscoverChemEng toolkit?

To support your presence at a careers fair, you can request the following items from your member communities team:

  • Three different pull-up banners:
    – Five reasons to become a chemical engineer
    – What is chemical engineering?
    – Chemical engineers and their involvement in reaching Sustainable Development Goals
  • Careers posters (available as a mixed pack of five):
    – Energy for a sustainable world
    – Water for a sustainable world
    – Food for a sustainable world
    – Health and wellbeing in a sustainable world
    – What is chemical engineering?
  • Bookmarks (double-sided with the information from the Five reasons banner and the What is chemical engineering? banner)
  • Table runner with the DiscoverChemEng logo
  • Pens and pencils bearing the DiscoverChemEng logo

What next?

Throughout 2024 I am hoping to create further resources for use in schools, including introductory activities for early years children, resources to introduce process engineering to primary school children and careers resources particularly targeted at maths teachers. There will be a repository of engaging activities and ideas that members have shared for you to download and use.

I will also be sharing more guidance for successful education outreach activities, how to evaluate your impact and the importance of partnerships. I am particularly keen to hear about education outreach experiences from members, so do please get in touch.

For further information, please contact DiscoverChemEng@icheme.org

To find out more visit www.icheme.org/education-career/discoverchemeng

Reference

1. https://www.ucas.com/explore/subjects/

Article by Jo Cox

Head of young people’s and student engagement at IChemE

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.