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Unilever Work Experience: Empowering future talent to innovate with new STEM programme
Students pitch novel ideas to a panel of Unilever Port Sunlight scientists!
Picture a student on work experience and you might visualise a teenager making coffees, doing printer runs or quietly observing professionals at work.
Not so at R&D Port Sunlight, where 40 students were recently invited to take on the roles of seasoned Unilever R&D professionals and design, formulate and pitch a brand-new hair product targeted at Generation Z consumers.
It’s all part of a new STEM and outreach programme designed to build a future talent pipeline and position Unilever as the place to innovate.
Inspiring the next generation of scientists
After the pandemic put a temporary pause on student work experience opportunities, the Port Sunlight STEM and outreach team felt it important to reconnect with a bang; changing up its approach to ensure student connections were relevant and worthwhile for future STEM talent.
Jade Lewcock, Port Sunlight’s Work Experience Lead, says the team devised a programme that not only gives students the experience of seeing a STEM workplace in action, but the experience of contributing to it too. “Our new work experience programme is hands-on and action-packed. Students in our 2023 intake were briefed to innovate a new hair product that would appeal to a Generation Z audience. They had to design the product formulation and packaging, include relevant claims and testing to substantiate the claims and then pitch the innovation to senior Unilever stakeholders to win the coveted STEM innovation prize.”
Before embarking on their challenges, the students were upskilled through a series of Unilever-led workshops and experiences across R&D functions.
Unilever’s work experience team hosted 40 students over three weeks, with each intake producing its own winner.
Jade says the most memorable winner was a pitch named ‘Pearls’. “It proposed a new solid format for shampoo. The mini shampoo pellets were designed as single use products contained in an attractive jar. The pellets also had the appearance of pearls, which the students designed to align with the Dove brand and vision.”
She says due to the competitive element of the challenge, many groups took strong ownership of their projects, with one student using their 3D printer to design and print a model pack.
Winners walked away with a medal, a certificate, a Unilever goodie bag and a box of chocolates.
Collaboratively building a future talent pipeline
This annual work experience week relies on volunteer support across several functions and categories within Port Sunlight, including Beauty and Wellbeing CTI and packaging, Home Care CTI and processing, Hair formulation, MIF measurement scientists, Dishwash formulation and data scientists.
Glyn Roberts, VP Hair and this year’s STEM sponsor, says he witnessed noticeable changes in the students after their week with Unilever. “Each student we hosted demonstrated a significant increase in confidence over their week with us. Many came in quiet and timid on day one and, come day five, were confidently pitching impressive product ideas to senior Unilever leaders.”
Unilever Port Sunlight STEM Lead, Rob Dawson, says it’s a privilege to inspire local students to believe in themselves and to demonstrate to them that a career in a STEM field is within their reach. “By doing so, R&D boosts its talent pipeline, future-proofing Unilever’s superior innovation for generations to come.””
He says this is evidenced by the fact that a student from the 2022 work experience intake is now working at Unilever as a 2023 apprentice.
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