Learning in Lockdown; Inspiring a generation

Mark Robinson, CEO at Scape Group discusses how Scape and its supply chain partners have been supporting young people to gain work experience during lockdown.

In May, 2,000 year 10/S4 students from 300 schools in England, Scotland and Wales came together to take part in an accredited digital design and construction work experience programme, during lockdown.

The concept grew from the realisation that potentially a whole year of schoolchildren were set to miss out on work experience, due to construction sites being closed – and the mutual agreement that this could not be allowed to happen. Facilitating work experience is one of the hallmarks of Scape’s approach to public sector project procurement, and an arena that our construction and consultancy partners do a fantastic job facilitating through traditional placements.

In just six weeks, working in partnership with some very talented organisations, we had created and delivered a well-long virtual programme that has exceeded all expectations. It has demonstrated the flexibility, collaborative ethos, and community spirit of the industry. Together, we have established new working methods that could be transformative for careers education, reaching a generation of students, through an inclusive, accessible, and barrier-free experience.

“Learning in Lockdown has been the best thing I’ve done in my 25 years of teaching”. This was one teacher’s response following the delivery of our national virtual work experience programme in May 2020, and its feedback like this that makes myself, Scape and the whole project team extremely proud of what we have achieved together for these young people.

What did the week involve?

The week was centred around the design of a sustainable community pavilion in Dubai. Students logged on to a daily online platform, Learn Live, to watch webinars and videos giving them hints and tips for what they would need to consider – From material choices to end user flow.

They worked together virtually, in small groups, to take this project from concept to design proposal and ultimately produce their individual models. Supporting them throughout the week were experts from the construction industry, academia and the built environment, who were on hand to share their expertise via video webinars and online chatroom discussions.

We were blown away by the level of talent and creativity the children showed throughout the week, with their scale models being presented for submission in all sorts of media; from SketchUp, Minecraft, Fortnite Creative and TikTok to intricate hand-cut carboard models and Lego. Not only this, but the way the teams embraced the challenge, collaborated, solved problems together and supported each other, even across groups and schools, was fantastic, and the kind of people we would be lucky to have in our future workforce – And 40% of them said they would now consider a career in construction as a result.

 

An insight into our world, and developing their skills

During the week, students gained a real insight into what professional careers in construction can look like. By introducing them to industry experts from a wide range of disciplines, from Quantity Surveyors through to Sustainability Managers from 50 leading businesses in the industry, they had the opportunity to find out just how diverse the work can be and to get support as they worked through their project tasks.

Throughout the week, students not only got a taste of design, engineering and construction, but developed their soft skills too such as teamworking, presentation skills and confidence – with many teachers saying these outcomes were equally as important to improving their employability and future potential.

A barrier-free experience

As a team, we agree that there should be no barriers to opportunity and learning.  We want all young people to understand that construction is an inclusive and vibrant industry, where hard work and skill is valued above all else.

We were thrilled that 46% of the students who joined us were female, 10% SEND learners and 10% with English as an additional language, as well as 24% from a BAME background. Being digital, Learning in Lockdown was accessible from any location, even those in the most remote parts of Scotland with a WiFi connection, and we also had international speakers joining to support the students from Dubai, where the Esteem Pavilion will be built!

The team behind our virtual work experience have worked with schools across the country, including in some of the most deprived communities in the UK.  We have encountered first-hand the digital deprivation that has been well covered during the Covid-19 crisis. Our school mentors and industry experts have shown remarkable dedication to ensure all students who wanted to take part were given the opportunity. We are also delighted to report that we have completed an offline pilot week with a school where this presented a significant problem, and all students were able to access, engage with and enjoy the programme.

A unique partnership

Growing the scheme from the seed of an idea in March into a robust, accredited, scalable model rolled out in May was made possible by the unique blend that each of the partner organisations brought to the programme.

Through their Esteem Pavilion Challenge, Class Of Your Own delivered a fantastic week long curriculum that engaged the full breath of STEM activities in a highly structured one week timetable.

With our network of national and regional delivery partners, and their extensive supply chains, Scape can leverage a wealth of industry expertise and reach through our partnerships, and our fundraising and lobbying ensured the programme was free for students and was well supported by industry volunteers from all types of organisations from multi-national tier 1 contractors such as Balfour Beatty, right through to specialist SMEs. Their donations, both financial and through volunteering hours, enabled us to generate almost £200,000 in social value in 30 hours – equating to a 4:1 return on investment.

Those students who submitted a high-quality portfolio of work for moderation at the end of the week will receive the Industrial Cadets Silver Award; a cv-worthy accreditation, which also enables them to join the national network of Industrial Cadets and seek further Gold and Platinum awards that are recognised by industry and support career development. Digital engagement through daily broadcasts and live chat support was provided by our friends at Heriot Watt University, and delivered through Learn Live, a safe and secure, fully moderated online platform for collaboration.

 

A truly collaborative effort

The commitment and expertise brought from all the contributors above, combined with highly motivated and enthusiastic children supported by teachers and careers mentors during the week, has created something very special. We simply could not have done any of this without them, and in my mind it is the mix of people, passion and process that has been Learning in Lockdown’s true success.

This is just the beginning

The response from students, teachers, schools and industry alike was phenomenal, and one thing is clear – there certainly is demand for high quality, barrier-free digital work experience opportunities.

We are exploring the potential to scale, evolve and grow the programme for future iterations. This was not just a programme on a shoestring; but a real, high-quality experience for students that rivals, if not exceeds, the benefits of many of the traditional work placements available in our industry.  As part of our ongoing commitment to digitising the physical, this programme utilised technology to inspire and engage young people, and helped strengthen the perceptions of an industry that needs bright new talent.

Whilst we are still reflecting, we can already confidently say that this has been a success.

From the feedback we have received from teachers and careers leads, from the standard of work and the students’ comments, to their enhanced CVs and recent benchmarking of virtual work experience programmes, which all show that what we have created is a genuine market leader.