Apprentices redesign charity’s stem activity kits to inspire schoolchildren in lockdown

Learners improve Imagineering product design and sustainability so that children can experience hands-on engineering at home

A team of apprentices at the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre (AMTC) has redesigned a DIY hydraulic arm kit so that an educational charity can continue to reach schoolchildren despite COVID-19 restrictions preventing school visits.

Twelve learners undertook the project for the Imagineering Foundation in partnership with engineering experts from the MTC as part of their MTC Apprenticeships Level 3 programme. The ultimate aim of the project was to redesign the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) kits’ components, packaging and guidance to enable parents, teachers and schoolchildren to buy the kits from large online retailers.

The apprentices worked in small teams to make the kits more environmentally and financially sustainable. They also created instructional media so that the kits can be completed independently away from the classroom and without Imagineering representative’s support, as well as marketing material to promote the product.

Their final design is now in production to enable it to be CE marked against the new post-Brexit criteria. Once certified, the first batch of commercial kits will made available for sale.

MTC Apprentice Caitlin-May Cunningham explained why the project was so valuable to her development.

“Being part of this project has been a fascinating journey. I’ve applied the skills and knowledge I’ve gained so far in my apprenticeship to fulfil a real client’s brief! I’ve also gained lots of new experience along the way, and it’s been really satisfying to have the opportunity to work through every stage of an end-to-end project so early in my career. It means I’ve got a great head start for when I return to my on-the-job training.”

Before the pandemic, Imagineering visited schools throughout the UK, giving children the chance to experience hands-on engineering activities. With schools closed or subject to COVID-19 restrictions, Imagineering needed to find an alternative way to distribute the kits and to continue to inspire the next generation to consider a career in STEM.

Bob Shanks, Chairman of Imagineering, said that he had been very impressed with the enthusiasm and professionalism of the MTC team and the innovative thinking the apprentices had brought to the project.

The project was funded by the MTC and has been so successful that further funding has already been made available for learners in MTC Apprenticeships’ 2020 cohort to develop a second kit. The team is hoping to make the initiative a permanent part of the MTC apprenticeship programme.

Senior Research Engineer, Sarah Heaven, who oversaw the project for the MTC said that the apprentices had added great value to the team. “The apprentices brought new ideas to the project that have made the kit more accessible and relevant to our target audience. In particular, their social media and gamification input will increase the product’s accessibility, helping to promote STEM skills and careers throughout the next generation. They have also explored and learned from approaches that more seasoned engineers might by-pass, which has resulted in a successful final prototype that has been robustly researched throughout its design.”

David Hughes MBE, AMTC Managing Director, added, “MTC Apprenticeships is committed to providing the future skills that the manufacturing sector needs to accelerate innovation, as well as delivering positive impact within our communities. With the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic and the continuing UK STEM skills gap, it’s more important than ever that we continue to inspire the next generation of engineering talent. I am delighted that our apprentices are already using their new skills to help Imagineering to achieve this.”