Student placements key to employment

Article by Neil Clark

WHEN looking for work, experience could be more influential than socio-economic background for chemical engineering students – according to an IChemE study.

Social mobility and the chemical engineering profession in the UK, published yesterday by IChemE’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (DIWG), presents findings from a survey of more than 1,700 IChemE UK members taken in October 2016. Questions were posed to investigate the impact on the sector of socio-economic factors such as parental occupation, childhood household income, and education history.

 Following analysis, the dataset brought to light several interesting observations requiring further investigation, although no clear conclusion can yet be made regarding social mobility.

One of the key findings was that, upon reaching university, there was an apparent “levelling of the playing field” driven by access to work experience – irrespective of an individual’s background. In fact, 85% of respondents who had undertaken at least one placement or internship gained employment within six months of graduating; this figure fell to 68% for those without experience. This latter group was also four-times more likely to never secure employment in the profession.

Co-author of the report and member of the DIWG, Wendy Wilson, said: “We all knew how important it was for students to get work experience prior to graduation. However, this study has reinforced this belief as well as showing that work experience helps to minimise the influence of socio-economic factors when seeking employment.”

However, socio-economic factors may still play some part in social mobility for chemical engineers. The survey suggested that individuals from families where at least one parent or guardian had attended university, or where the main earner’s occupation was a “managerial, senior, or professional occupation”, have a possible advantage, and are more likely to have studied at a top-ranked university.

Interestingly, the report also suggested that the ranking of a university had little eventual impact on employability. Similarly, undergoing education at a fee-paying school or receiving means-tested benefits while at school did not seem to provide benefits in finding work.

In addition, the report indicates that today’s graduates are taking longer to find work, while the level of qualification attained has increased over the past 40 years.

IChemE’s president, John McGagh, said: “Championing diversity and inclusion is a vital part of IChemE’s work to build and support the chemical engineering community. I’m grateful to our members in the DIWG for contributing to these efforts. Their work raises important questions about how we ensure work placement opportunities are accessible to all chemical engineering students around the world.”

The DIWG has said it intends to further explore the questions raised by the report, and in 2018 it will look at how socio-economic factors affect chemical engineers in the workplace.

Read the full report at:

Article by Neil Clark

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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