My teacher placement at Curtins

Our founder, Bill Curtin believed that young people were the future of Curtins and engineering. His belief still resonates with us today, at a time when the industry is struggling to find sufficient new talent to fill the STEM skills gap. To inspire the next generation to pursue careers in engineering, our Liverpool office has been delighted to welcome a teacher placement from Upton Girls School for the past 5 weeks. Art and Design teacher, Shelagh McNicholas has been spending time with our team to not only find out what career opportunities are available in the industry, but to also advise Curtins on how we can better support STEM activity in schools. In the following blog she summarises her experiences with us…

“Being relatively new to teaching and having a professional career in industry as a children’s book illustrator, I have a wealth of subject knowledge in Art & Design, my specialist subject, but not so much in STEM subjects. I am now teaching Art and Product Design at Upton Hall School, an all-girls grammar school on the Wirral and as Product Design is a new subject for me, the opportunity to work at Curtins on a placement was simply perfect!

With excitement and some slight trepidation, I entered Curtins building and was greeted with such a warm and friendly welcome. I was introduced to Rebecca King, Learning and Development Manager, who immediately put me at ease and after handing me a freshly brewed coffee, she introduced me to the Curtins team. It wasn’t long before I felt like one of the family, I need not have worried at all.

Firstly, Rebecca introduced me to Directors Andy Macfarlane and Tim Bingham. Tim shared with me his fascinating story of his educational path and the belief that if you work hard you can achieve your goal, and with their founder Bill Curtin’s passion to teach and share knowledge, I knew I was in the right place to build my knowledge and confidence in teaching STEM based topics in a creative and inspiring way to promote STEM subjects back in school.

But what did I hope to achieve and gain during my placement? To learn more about the industry of civil and structural engineering of course, but even more so, I wanted to further raise awareness and ignite interest in the diversity of engineering, encouraging and enticing our girls at Upton Hall School into the variety of career opportunities within the industry.

I had the privilege of working alongside Ciaran Allen who carefully demonstrated and explained to me in detail TEKLA, one of the many software programs used by Curtins structural engineers. Mark Webber enriched my knowledge of the city by detailing the fascinating historic finds whilst working on restoration projects in and around Liverpool. John Kelly and Alex Matthews invited me to join them for a meeting with local architects (Ryder), to discuss engineering solutions and oversee design solutions for one of their many multi projects based in Liverpool. The meeting gave me an insight into the importance of good, clear communication not only within the company departments but also with other external industries for the successful outcome of each, and every project.

With having a background in a creative industry, I was hugely impressed and interested in the many talents of the Create department. Kate Clegg highlighted how marketing the company takes account of the ability to understand customers needs, how they [Curtins] value their product and the vision all Curtins employees share and work towards. Clare Hodgson described how she masterminds the visuals promoting Curtins’ seven specialisms, keeping an exciting and engaging visual communication throughout the company’s UK offices both internally and externally.

Being school based, Rebecca excitedly explained to me the growing Academy scheme for graduates, apprenticeships and work placement experience for school and college students, unlocking boundless possibilities for students to work on cutting edge projects, within dynamic teams and engaging with clients. Mentored by high callibre professionals providing a real insight into the working environment, helping to shape students understanding of the profession and start to identify a potential career path. I had the pleasure to chat to one apprentice Owen Smith. He explained to me the educational path he embarked on and his journey so far. Following the successful achievement of a BTEC Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship, Owen has now embarked on a Degree Apprenticeship at LJMU. Whilst studying, Owen is continually learning on the job and refining crucial workplace specific skills whilst being supported by a dedicated Curtins mentor. I believe this mentoring initiative continues beyond the apprenticeship scheme, as well as graduate development, Curtins offer support to teachers in areas that will stretch them as well as their students beyond their own specialism and that’s exactly what I’m hoping to achieve.

There is a plethora of continued CPD sessions on offer within the company, all extremely well supported. I attended one such session hosted by Jeff Lawrenson, North West Membership Officer, from the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) who clearly outlined the various paths that can be taken to achieve Chartered status. Developing solutions, taking leadership and thinking outside the box. I very much like his perspective.

I have had the pleasure of gaining such an invaluable experience and knowledge, my only disappointment is that the five days over five weeks has come to an end all too soon. However, I am confident that this is certainly not the end but the just the very beginning of my relationship with Curtins and Upton Hall School. I cannot wait to relay to our girls all that I have learned, and further develop and strengthen this relationship with Curtins. I look forward to working with the wonderful team designing collaborative school and real-life projects, igniting student’s interest in a future career in engineering.”