Back to school to inspire engineers of the future

Highways England STEM Insight

At Highways England we believe our roads connect businesses, families and friends. Yet the country faces a shortage of the people that build them, especially engineers. That’s why at Highways England, we are very focused on inspiring young people to consider engineering as a rewarding career.

Working at the company’s Bristol office, I have the unofficial role of coordinator for our outreach to local schools, managing all the work experience requests the company receives from Year 10 and 12 students in the area. As part of this work, I became involved in the STEM Insight programme.

Putting together the programme was a little different from student work experience. Normally I try to find a bit of the business which will interest the student and offer them an opportunity to do meaningful work. With the STEM Insight programme, it was about giving an insight to the breadth of possible careers with science, engineering or maths at the core of the work we do.

It started with a telephone call with the teacher due to come into the workplace to discuss what she wanted to take away from the week.  Better understanding her objectives and motivations enabled me to pull together a programme to:

  • demonstrate the diversity of roles within Highways England
  • increase the diversity of people filling science and engineering roles in our organisation
  • offer scope to translate what we do to the classroom

At the end of a very busy week we agreed a date to visit the school of the teacher we hosted and engage in some activities with the children, which was extremely rewarding for us. Here are some of the things we did during our school visit:

  • we talked about bridges and their structure, discussing different ways they can be made. From that insight, the children were then tasked to design and build cardboard bridges that would support weight. It was amazing to see the enthusiastic and thoughtful approach many students took – these are future engineers in the making!
  • we looked at how geology is important when building a road and helped the children to make their own fossils
  • we evaluated data patterns and spoke about how they help us to manage traffic using speed limits

Building a strong link with the school wasn’t part of the original plan for our experience hosting a STEM Insight placement, but it came about very organically from having a teacher among us at work, and it was greatly enjoyed and appreciated by everyone involved.

We are currently planning a visit by the children to our regional operations centre where, as well as seeing how we use technology to manage the motorway on a day to day basis, we are also hoping to borrow the local STEM Ambassador hub’s Mindstorms robots and get the children involved in building autonomous vehicles. The future is in their hands, after all. It’s been incredible to connect with them in this way and hopefully help inspire them into careers in engineering.

Highways England hosted a placement for a teacher from the Malmesbury ENTHUSE Partnership for five days in July 2018.

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