1 school, 1 day and 60 guest teachers
How do you teach 200 savvy teenagers about creating "healthy streets"? These are avenues in dense cities that encourage people to walk and cycle, so the air is cleaner, congestion is reduced and people are fitter and healthier.
That's one of the challenges some 60 members of Skanska's UK team faced recently when developing a full day of activities for London's South Bank Engineering University Technical College (UTC). Principal Dan Cundy suspended all regular lessons for the school's 200-strong cohort of 14- to 19-year-old students, and welcomed Skanska team members to lead them in a range of activities to provide students with insights into engineering and construction careers.
Boost into STEM careers
The daylong event was on a much bigger scale than Skanska's normal engagements with the school as an industry sponsor. This was a chance to work directly with the students to help boost them into professional careers involving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, for which there is a significant need in the UK and many other countries.
"I thought if we take over the school for the whole day, the students will get a real sense of how our business works," says Adam Crossley, our Director of Environment in the UK.
To educate about healthy streets, we decided to "gamify" the issue, creating a strategy game called the Healthy Streets Challenge, based on the Mayor of London's approach to tackling poor air quality. The students could choose between 46 colorful cards that featured such interventions as planting trees, raising taxes on diesel fuel and encouraging electric car use. It was a topic with direct relevance to the teenagers: their school is located in an area where many diesel vehicles challenge the air quality.
"The vast majority of the students really got into the task of addressing poor air quality and intimidating streets in London," says Chris Pottage, our Sustainable and Healthy Buildings Officer in the UK. "I was delighted with the outcome."
Not a normal day
Also during the energy charged day, the students learned about innovation within the construction industry, including using virtual reality headsets. They learned about climate change and how their own daily activities produce harmful carbon emissions. The guest teachers also provided individual sessions on career advice and resume tips.
The first-of-its-kind event transformed the outlook and attitudes of students, says Dan Cundy, the principal.
"Students got to get hands-on with virtual reality in an industrial, rather than entertainment application," he says. "Likewise, they understood how high-end drones can be used in engineering. Another benefit was with students gaining a new-found sense of direction on the back of the one-on-one career session they all had with a Skanska professional."
Junior, one of the students who participated, said the day opened his eyes about the engineering profession.
"I thought the industry would be more in an office space or in the computer lab," he says. "But I saw that you get to go out on adventures of sorts, and get to work on cool technology and products. That's definitely something I would regard for the future."
Hope for the future
Students weren't the only ones who left feeling inspired.
Chris Pottage, who led the Healthy Streets Challenge, says the experience gave him greater hope for the future of the environment, and left him impressed by tomorrow's potential engineers.
"There were some fantastic ideas and innovations from the students," he says. "I look forward to seeing how they'll help improve their community, and maybe the world."