“Spaghetti and Marshmallows” Youth Excellence Seminar

Constructing Excellence in Yorkshire and Humberside started the New Years’ series with its Youth Excellence event yesterday at the Rose Bowl at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Caroline Key chaired the first event of 2014, Caroline is regional coordinator for G4C, Generation for Change part of Constructing Excellence, driving the change agenda and ensuring best practice for the next generation of construction professionals.

Caroline introduced the effervescent and inspirational Alison Watson who has gained wide respect among not only her peers but also influential decision makers in Government,  for raising the profile  of (if not introducing to some!) the concept of the construction professional as a fantastic career prospect as a healthy alternative to the overplayed ‘Bob the Builder’ message.

Alison has established Class of your Own  (COYO), a social business , focused on bringing the message of  what the industry has to offer to children of school age – a “constructive education for young people”

Alison’s presentation was not just a ‘pitch’ but a sharing of her voyage of discovery since she realised that the industry’s future health is dependent on targeting and nurturing the talent in schools. Her vision includes the need to inspire the thousands of boys and girls to think about the prospects of working in the industry, using their minds and intelligence to overcoming challenges and providing solutions. All too often the industry is portrayed dumbed down, and adding insult to injury those that have least ‘apparent’ academic ability only being channelled into the trades.  This is completely against Alison’s version of reality based on entering the industry with a love for maths and for Land Surveying! Examples of PhD students taking an age to solve simple application of Pythagoras versus the inherent ability of a bricklayer to do this intuitively brought home the message that all too often we allow the industry to be browbeaten down by the voices in other sectors;  many times down to the lack of awareness and knowledge in the schools themselves. So part of her journey is to equip the teachers with the passion she shares that can be passed on to the kids.

As a result Alison has worked tirelessly on developing these themes and was able to demonstrate the many and significant examples of the great achievements of schoolchildren from all around the country, some of which from backgrounds that are not conducive to such levels of attainment and which have led on to these children presenting their work at the highest level within industry and across continents – even meeting Prince Andrew!

Her work now is based on providing the formal context and developing a curriculum for teaching the principles for and encouraging the problem solving abilities that are required in our industry, this based largely on interactive and project based work. For more see www.designengineerconstruct.com

Before we leave Alison we need to reflect on the hard work that has been involved and still goes on to ensure that this approach is fully integrated into the schools’ operations – the alignment with all the policies and procedures that exist (KS4 etc), and the effort needed to ensure there is a clear legacy in place.

After such a dynamic presentation from Alison all eyes were on Rob Wolfe, and of course Rob rose to the high standard with a clear articulation of the achievements (and challenges) on delivering key social outcomes through his work with Construction and Housing Yorkshire (CHY) and in particular its  intervention on BAM’s Leeds Arena project.

Rob made it clear that whilst it was great to work with the council, the contractor and the supply chain, it is also very necessary to have the contractual ‘bite’ to ensure that the desired outcomes are met and achieved.

Rob started off  by taking us through his own journey from ‘call centre’ operator to looking to make the difference. Why do we bother?  For CHY it is about making sure that everybody can reach their aspirations. We need to create the right environment that can support people to achieve their aspirations.

On this basis the engagement started from ‘open door’ awareness sessions bringing in the local community to see the opportunities for work on the site (initially only a handful showed up) to the thousands of weeks of experience, and hundreds of job opportunities that exist in the city – even now.

Rob shared the initial plan for, the learning and the outcomes from the Arena, and apportioned a lot of the success down to the planning with the council and BAM, and also the engagement with the whole supply chain right through to the suppliers and manufacturers that were involved with the project.

But the challenges are still there. From a recent opportunity to fill 15 places for apprenticeships only 8 were taken.

A lively Q&A followed, reflecting on the effort it must take from all involved to make progress no matter how small and to keep building the picture that we need to set in the minds of young people.

Don’t encourage them to be a footballer , encourage them to look at engineering stadiums and say its lighting – how that relates to it being shown on Sky, or a DJ get them interested in the engineering and design behind the superficiality of the initial appeal of these roles.

Close to home Alison shared the thought of her daughter ‘If only maths could be more spaghetti and marshmallows ‘ i.e. Applied learning … That’s how we learn … and suggested that we should be thinking about “Let’s do maths … Big maths !” (not just the big Data being talked about now)

So………………..passionate and inspiring views … Still face mountains to climb … how do we clone  the Alisons , Robs and Carolines?

Please note: the next Constructing Excellence Event will be held on Wednesday 26th February and will focus on regulation excellence (further details here http://ckehub.org/events/116)