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Inspiring the next generation with Careers in STEM

Jasmine Wheelhouse, operations manager at Class Careers gives a personal take on the recent Inspiration Week Live! event connecting teenagers with STEM volunteers in an online digital platform.

“We will get some strange questions,” I said. It’s true. They are strange. More so when you don’t do this for a living. Even after eighteen months in this role, I can’t tell you what a fourteen-year-old lad from Brighton is going to ask a Partner at Merrill Lynch over the internet, but I can hazard a guess.

I love this bit. The audience is slightly twitchy. “You know… like, are you single?” I paused again for a laugh. It always gets a laugh. It’s funny, but I think it’s probably nervous laughter… you know, they’re probably thinking, ‘What have I signed myself up for?’

This isn’t a regular Tuesday morning. In about ten minutes, students in classrooms all across the country – fifty, sixty, hundreds of miles away will be logging onto their computers to chat with one of the people in this room about their future. This could be a pivotal moment in that student’s career. Life, even! My heart jumps once or twice. I can see the first school coming online.

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“Someone’s talking at me!”, someone shouted from across the room. “Me too!” shouted another. And another. And another. “Wow, they are 14!”

That is the age of a Year 9. They do have to decide – if they haven’t already – what they want to study at GCSE at that age. The choices they make now will have an impact on what they can study at A-Level. It’s a big deal.

Usually our workshops are used by recruitment teams from companies about their apprenticeship and school leaver opportunities on offer, giving so much more information than that just found on their own website.

But this is very different. Your Life have this mammoth task to get more students studying Maths and Physics at A-Level. And it’s a challenge! The general consensus of Maths and Physics is ‘boring, ‘too hard!’ or worse, ‘I don’t want to wear a lab coat to work!’ But this is a huge misconception. There are so many careers in STEM. You could be a Data Scientist, an Engineer, an Intelligence Analyst, IT Manager, CEO, a Software Developer – (they don’t wear lab coats, do they?)

The students are genuinely interested in our volunteers. For each ‘are you single?’ asked, we got hundreds of ‘what subjects do you think would be best for me?’, ‘what careers can I have if I study Maths?’, ‘what’s it like to be an Engineer?’, ‘what do you enjoy most about your job?’ And hundreds more ‘how much to do you get paid?’!

The nervous energy switched to just raw enthusiasm. Elation. The room is buzzing. I hear snippets of conversations between volunteers…

“… amazing. I feel like I’m really making a difference…”
“… this boy just told me I’ve helped him make up his mind on his future…”
“… I’m so pleased I can help… I have so much to tell her!”

At 5pm on Thursday evening, I take a breath. Wow. We did it. Two days. 849 students. 21 schools. 64 volunteers. 30 companies. 238 hours of one-to-one support.

Three hours later, I’m on a train back home. I receive an email from a teacher whose students participated in the session, it reads:

“Thank you for today. This is a BRILLIANT initiative and one that our students fully embraced. They felt they could ask anything about salaries, educational background, quality of life, etc. without feeling the inhibitions of an audience. The volunteers were frank and enthusiastic and – when can we do it again?!”

Yeah. It’s been a good day.

Jasmine Wheelhouse is the Operations Manager at Class Careers, a social enterprise that connects school classrooms to employers through live online conversations. During Your Life’s Inspiration Week Live, Class Careers facilitated conversations between school students and volunteers with careers in STEM – all of whom use Maths or Science in their day-to-day roles – with the aim of inspiring the future generation through their own experiences, to think carefully about their subject choices, and ultimately inspire them to take more STEM subjects at A-Level.