Design and technology teachers experience of industry

"I decided that I was going to educate myself, not necessarily because Prodrive will have a direct impact on my teaching, or learners progress, but because the more I know, the greater the wealth of opportunity I can offer to my students".

Stuart Dashwood at Prodrive

I have been a Design Technology teacher for a little over 12 years, unlike many design technology teachers, am not an engineer, I am an arts graduate, specifically I trained as a Jewellery designer, I have sometimes felt this leaves me at a disadvantage when I am trying to guide my students, to help them make the best choices for careers and next steps after school. I am constantly fascinated by the huge number of things I discover I don’t know, particularly about entry into engineering and how to answer the question “Sir, what do I need to do to become an engineer?”. To this end, last year I decided that I was going to educate myself, not necessarily because they will have a direct impact on my teaching, or learners progress, but because the more I know, the greater the wealth of opportunity I can offer to my students. Pleased with this rationale I began looking around.

In a piece of serendipitous timing I received an email from DATA. “Would you like to do work experience at an engineering firm?” I am paraphrasing, but I thought to myself, why not. After numerous emails, phone calls and wrangling with the senior leadership team, I got a placement at Prodrive in Banbury. As I have said, I know very little about engineering, but I had heard of Prodrive, they build Aston Martin racing cars I thought.

I had expected noise, sparks and mess and grime such as is the stereotype of large engineering works, grizzled men in grubby overalls manufacturing esoteric objects on dangerous looking machines, however the main workshop was quiet, the low murmur of discussion, clean orderly bays with excitingly fast looking shapes covered with dust sheets, then through a set of doors into a large open plan office ranged with computers and smartly dressed women and men discussing CAD drawings. Not a greasy overall in sight. 

For the three days of my internship I was partnered with a student from Oxford City College, who was there on actual work experience, we went through the scheduled program together, were introduced to CAD software, given a tour of the facility, shown past projects and introduced to the design engineers who created them. It gave me a fascinating insight into what a well-planned and resourced work experience placement can offer students, I now understand how, by asking the right questions at the beginning, and guiding the thinking of potential placements, students can get an immersive experience.

 It was interesting watching the college student go from the position of having a very fixed idea of what she wanted to do, to the opening of her horizons to her completely changing tack completely.

I spent some time talking to the mechanics building racing cars and learned that they had come from very different backgrounds. One had been a truck mechanic, another came from working on the factory floor of a manufacturing plant, all had had to learn new skills, and were continually learning to keep on the cutting edge of touring car racing.

Many of the design engineers I spoke to had done A-level product design, some of them had done an engineering degree, but not all, a number of them, including our work experience mentor, were pursuing masters qualifications whilst working. In conversation with people the things which came up most regularly were the variety of challenges which their work threw up, projects vary a great deal, some days are creating CAD drawings, others might be testing physical prototypes, team meetings and discussions.

My main take away from the experience is that engineering is not all about Maths and physics, it isn’t just about memorizing formula, it isn’t just about using heavy machines like lathes, it isn’t just about hitting things with hammers or using a torque wrench, it is about attention to detail, about a desire to make things smaller, lighter, faster, more efficient, more elegant. It is about understanding what you don’t know and what you need but don’t have in order to create something new.

Engineering is a very simple word to describe an immensely diverse set of skills and knowledge. I feel I have learned a great deal from my time at Prodrive, I hope to take my students on a tour when school resumes and whilst I am still not an engineer, I have a much clearer view of how my students can follow that path and what I need to provide to enable them to flourish, whether that is through school, college or apprenticeships.

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