Learning in Lockdown; from necessity came something special

Chris clarke cut out

“Learning in Lockdown has been the best thing I’ve done in my 25 years of teaching”.

That was one teacher’s response following the delivery of our national virtual work experience programme in May 2020. It is feedback like this which make the whole Learning in Lockdown project team extremely proud. We have just delivered virtual work experience to 2,000 year 10/S4 students from 300 schools in England, Scotland and Wales during lockdown.

In late March 2020, as schools closed early for Easter and the national Covid-19 lockdown took effect, the SCAPE team were discussing the impact of school closures on careers education and work experience. We were reflecting on the likely lost opportunities to inspire the next generation of built environment professionals. 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 wonderful job supporting through traditional placements. We opened our discussion and our very real concerns up to the world of social media and, as a result, were introduced to some very special new colleagues!

Fast forward six weeks, and together we were delivering a week long virtual programme that has exceeded all expectations, shown the very best of our generous and community spirited industry, and established working methods that are potentially transformative for careers education; reaching a generation of students and introducing them to our amazing industry.

What did the work experience week involve?

Centred around the design of a sustainable community pavilion in Dubai, students worked together virtually, in small groups, to take this project from concept to design proposal and models. They were supported throughout by experts from the construction industry, academia and the built environment, via video webinars and online chatroom discussions.

We have been blown away by the level of talent and creativity these children have shown 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 cardboard 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 40% of them said they would now consider a career in construction!

An insight into our world, and confidence for the future

During the week, we gave the students 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, 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. In return, our industry volunteers from 50 leading businesses got a taste of what our industry can expect from these inspiring, enquiring minds. The students were not shy with their questions! Some of their innovative ideas and creativity of thought even surprised our experts!

Throughout the week, students not only got a taste of design, engineering and construction, but developed their soft skills too, such as team-working, 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% were pupils with SEND and 10% had English as an additional language, as well as 24% from a BAME background. Being digital, Learning in Lockdown was accessible from any location, including those in the most remote parts of Scotland with a WiFi connection, and we even had speakers joining in 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 demonstrated that the programme is accessible even to children without laptops.

A unique partnership

Growing the scheme from the seed of an idea in March into a robust, accredited, scalable model 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.

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. Staff from all types of organisations from multi-national tier 1 contractors such as Balfour Beatty, right through to specialist SMEs across the supply chain, played a vital part in inspiring students during the week, and their donations, both financial and through volunteering hours, enabled us to generate almost £200,000 in social value in 30 hours.

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, delivered through Learn Live, a safe and secure, fully moderated online platform for collaboration.

A truly collaborative effort

The passion and expertise brought from all the contributors above, combined with highly motivated and enthusiastic pupils, supported by teachers and careers mentors during the week, has created something really special. We simply could not have done any of this without you, 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 is demand for high quality, barrier-free digital work experience opportunities and - as part of our ongoing commitment to digitising the physical, using technology to improve the world in which we all exist and to help strengthen an industry that needs bright new talent - 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.

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.

Watch out UK construction, the Learning in Lockdown alumni are coming!

Chris clarke

Written by:

Chris Clarke

Performance and Improvement Director