School ties - reporting on IEMA’s recent school outreach project

23rd September 2021


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Abigail Simmons

Abigail Simmons reflects on IEMA’s recent school outreach project, and the impact it had on participating students

After joining IEMA in February, one of the first organisations I met with was ‘Speakers for Schools’, a charity set up by the journalist Robert Peston to give opportunities to students at state schools. IEMA had agreed to host 30 students for a week of virtual work experience, and one of my first tasks was to lead the project.

Fortunately, I had some experience in this area: I’d spent a few years at the BBC on secondment to its outreach programme BBC School Report, where journalists and producers mentored students, visited schools, and helped students produce their own news pieces and make content for BBC platforms.

Securing engagement

I knew my first challenge would be engaging the students, many of whom had experienced a desperate year of coronavirus lockdowns. Memories of a talk I’d given to Year 11 (GCSE-age) students at a school in Hertfordshire came flooding back: heads down, no interaction, no eye contact and no acknowledgement that any of them even watched or listened to the BBC! It was one of the most challenging talks I’d ever given, but I had a secret weapon: a camerawoman with her kit, a flak jacket and the task of going out and interviewing pupils. The ice melted, the students finally engaged and we came back with some brilliant interviews.

With two children of my own, both of whom had had either no schooling or just online school for six months, I knew that the virtual work experience would need to be engaging. What would we do to encourage the students, and how could we keep them coming back and interacting with each other – especially as they were from all over the country?

“Students told us they had ‘found their people’ or were going to investigate career opportunities”

Building the programme

IEMA corporate partnership manager Alan Darby stepped up to secure input from Lego and Siemens Energy for our virtual work week, and my programme timetable began to take shape. We quickly established that Lego would run an interactive session with the students on the circular economy, sustainability and sending messages to the leaders at COP (using virtual Lego, which was great!), while Siemens Energy was devising its own work experience programme and generously agreed to showcase its resources on hydrogen and carbon footprints to the students. The Speakers for Schools team showed us its Google Classroom platform, which is specifically set up to ensure the safeguarding of students, and there were a variety of tools we could use, including Jamboards (collaboration whiteboards), polls, and Q&A and chat functions.

Along with input from IEMA staff, IEMA Graduate member Mohammed Mohammoud and journalist Madeleine Cuff from The i, we delivered a varied programme that allowed students of differing capabilities and stages to experience ‘virtual working life’ at IEMA. I couldn’t have run the week without IEMA’s digital communications officer Tim Farmer, who hosted the Google Classroom, uploaded the work, polls, Jamboards and worksheets, and made sure everything ran smoothly – even when we went off-script.

A real impact

What struck me most was the fact that, while the students were interested in finding out more about opportunities in the environmental and sustainability professions, there seemed to be a real lack of advice or direction available for them. It was brilliant to be able to offer professional insights from our CEO Sarah Mukherjee and deputy CEO Martin Baxter, as well as our corporate partners, student members, policy team, membership team and marketing team.

We had glowing feedback from the students after the virtual work week, with some saying they had “found their people” or were going to investigate the career opportunities we had talked about, having never considered the area before and having had access to household names such as Lego and Siemens Energy. One student revealed that they normally struggled to concentrate because they had ADHD and often got bored, but had “really enjoyed the week and got lots out of it” – high praise indeed.

I strongly recommend that anyone who is considering outreach in this area considers a Speakers for Schools programme, or join us for next year’s IEMA 2022 cohort.



Inspiring and guiding students

Louise Smith
Head of sustainability, Lego

At the Lego Group, we’re playing our part in building a sustainable future and creating a better world for our children to inherit. We were excited to join
IEMA in inspiring, and being inspired by, young people on sustainability.
A collaborative group of our social and environmental team led the session and supported the group in designing a regeneration plan for a space using circular economy principles, which allow businesses, people and nature to flourish together. We were impressed by the creativity and passion of the group, and very much enjoyed working together to support this project!

Sarah Handley, FIEMA CEnv
Head of sustainability, Siemens Energy


The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to change the normal work experience activities we offer to students. A shift to a virtual work experience platform broadened our geographical outreach, enabling a much more inclusive approach. At Siemens Energy we have developed a portfolio of interactive virtual work experience modules, which aim to inspire students with
the career opportunities to support decarbonisation solutions. As a corporate partner of IEMA we were delighted to share these free resources with students to help inspire the next generation to pursue a career in environment and sustainability.

Mohammed Mohamoud, GradIEMA
Intern at Fast Futures

When the opportunity presented itself to share how I got to where I am now,
I couldn’t have said ‘yes’ any faster.

People don’t fulfil their potential for many reasons, but there were two
I wanted to focus on when talking to the students: being unable to find your passion and strengths, and lacking the self-belief to push your limits.

My journey was filled with disappointments, but they all served as stepping stones for me to get to where I am now. So, no matter what your path is, be patient with yourself and don’t stop believing – and you, too, can find your calling.


Abigail Simmons is head of media at IEMA.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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