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Erica Barrett, ECLIPS Logistics

Photocopying is out, tackling uncrewed aerial systems is in. A new generation of work experience supervisors give students real-life scenarios to solve.

The phrase high school work experience conjures up images of standing by the photocopier for hours, attending meetings with confusing company jargon, or helping with day-to-day (sometimes dull!) tasks that are on any job to-do list. Thankfully, there’s a new breed of work experience supervisors doing their best to inspire and excite young STEM enthusiasts, within a virtual space.

Erica Barrett, Senior Engineer at Australian veteran-owned engineering company ECLIPS Logistics, is a trailblazer in this new approach to engaging teenage students. Erica supervised five Year 10 and 11 students in a week-long virtual work experience program run by the CSIRO in partnership with the Department of Defence. The program gave Erica a chance to rewrite her own work experience story and to share what she finds exciting about working in the defence industry.

Erica Barrett, Senior Engineer at Australian veteran-owned engineering company ECLIPS Logistics. ©  ECLIPS Logistics, Rudraksh Goel

Erica recalls her own work experience as overwhelming and says it even turned her off her initial desired career path entirely. Driven to create a more positive experience for the next generation, Erica drew upon real-life Defence industry innovation challenges to design a meaningful yet achievable project for the group to tackle. They looked at the scenario of using uncrewed aerial systems to deliver routine or emergency supplies to frontline soldiers engaged in humanitarian or combat work in remote terrain.

Together the students worked through questions around the requirements, trade-offs, and testing relating to uncrewed aerial systems to reach isolated forces, using an engineering process to start to shape and solve the problem. “I thought the issue was something [the students] might relate to, coming from regional areas themselves,” she says.

Each of the students naturally gravitated towards different aspects of the project, discovering for themselves the variety of STEM-related work within defence industry. “One really enjoyed the operation modelling, another focused on designing and drawing the robotic parts, while one student really enjoyed thinking about regulations and the safety side of things.” During the final day’s reflection period, one student expressed surprise at the collaboration inherent in engineering projects and another at the opportunities in the industry to deliver contracted work to Defence.

To ensure a great experience for the students, Erica planned the activities ahead of time, and enlisted several co-workers to share their own career stories. “I gave CSIRO our preferred week to host the students, and made sure it was away from any critical work calendar events.”

The chance to interact with this group of smart, curious teenagers has made Erica hopeful for the future of STEM in Australia, and has reinforced the satisfaction she gets from sharing her experience and journey with young people. “I think if there’s a diversity of people who come into the defence industry, it’s a great outcome. I would sign up to supervise another cohort because I’m quite driven by that sense of service to help people understand their futures,” says Erica.

You can help inspire and excite the next generation of STEM talent too. Applications to supervise the next CSIRO Virtual Work Experience - Defence Industry Stream are open now. Review our Frequently asked questions for more information or speak to the CSIRO team today.

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