Australia’s engineers and scientists have always pushed the boundaries of possibility. Our nation has a strong history of world-changing innovations and discoveries in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) ‒ such as Wi-Fi, ultrasound scanners, the first penicillin-based antibiotic medicines and spray on skin for burns patients.
With a current skills shortage in the science and engineering workforce driving promotion of STEM subjects at the state and national level, the Aurecon Jacobs Joint Venture (AJJV) was engaged by CPB John Holland JV to develop a new program to realise STEM engagement at the grassroots level for the West Gate Tunnel Project.
By connecting with a real-world infrastructure project, the program not only encourages school students’ interest in STEM, but also provides a much-needed platform for the younger generation to be informed, involved and inspired about the future of our transport systems.
Launched in April 2019, the program ‘West Gate Kids’ aims to show young people what projects such as the West Gate Tunnel ‒ one of the biggest investments in the history of Victoria’s transport infrastructure ‒ means for their future. It is closely linked to the Arts and STEM curriculum (often known as STEAM!) and also supports careers education.
‘West Gate Kids’ is designed to be socially inclusive, supporting young people from diverse backgrounds to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding of future career opportunities related to transport and infrastructure.
“The program made ‘invisible’ elements of infrastructure visible, and highlighted challenges faced by designers. Students were very engaged by all aspects of the session… students are already saying that they want to be engineers.”
– Teacher of a participating school
The sophisticated and engaging school engagement program led by AJJV enabled students to be immersed in the world of science via a variety of hands-on experiments showing how cities work.
Designed to complement activities associated with the West Gate Tunnel Project Information Centre, our team was pivotal in creating a program of activities for school incursions and excursions.
Early engagement with school leaders, teachers and the Department of Education indicated a STEM-focused program, targeting late primary and early secondary students, would provide the best model to support the needs of local schools.
Our work laid the foundations for local delivery partner SciencePlay Kids, led by award-winning scientist Dr Lorien Parker, to create and present engaging sessions that brought the science and engineering in the project to life. Additional guidance was provided by key STEM stakeholders in Victoria including members from the Scienceworks museum, Quantum Victoria and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.
To ensure content was authentic, our team shared the proposed model with AJJV specialists in tunnelling, bridges, roads and electrical systems, making changes and gathering key facts to maximise relevance and engagement.
During the pilot period in late 2018, students and teachers also provided feedback which directly influenced changes to the design of sessions, and provided more scope for enquiry-based learning and creativity.
By the end of 2019, West Gate Kids expects to have engaged over 1000 students from 15 primary and secondary schools in Melbourne’s western suburbs. But the value goes far beyond the classroom.
This program exemplifies a whole new approach to engagement which can be applied in many contexts – projects of all sizes and in ongoing engagement for organisations of all kinds.
By seeing schools as trusted community hubs and taking the time to understand how their students can best be supported by the project, school engagement can create a win-win, where the project and its representatives are welcomed because they address a real need for providing curriculum-linked resources to schools.
At the state and federal level, STEM subjects are being strongly promoted to offset a real shortage of skills in the science and engineering workforce. This project addresses this issue by bringing STEM learning to life. It also supports its own talent pipeline by introducing young people – especially those less likely to pursue STEM careers, such as females ‒ to engineers and designers, who can become role models and influence their future careers.