Skip to content ↓

Chocolate factory challenge: the sweet taste of engineering success

One hundred and forty pupils from primary schools across Reading got out of their classrooms this week to get a chocolatey taste for the big wide world of work.

The nine- and ten-year-olds visited UTC Reading on Wednesday and Thursday June 17 and 18 to take part in the ‘Children and the Chocolate Factory’ event designed to inspire careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) through hands-on activities. Working in teams of six, the pupils designed and built their own mini network of water pipes to supply a fictional chocolate factory which they then had to put to the test using real water.

Alison Hicks, Year 5 teacher at Alfred Sutton Primary School, said: “This event has been a great opportunity to show our children what engineering is all about, and what a career in engineering could look like. It has also helped to build their personal and social skills by encouraging them to work in teams and communicate to solve problems.

“Children, as well as many adults, don’t have a clear idea of what engineering jobs there are. This sort of activity helps to make it more tangible and I hope it will inspire some of our children to explore this avenue further.”

Warsan Zubeir-Masabo, aged 10 from Alfred Sutton Primary School, said: “We have learnt how to check the water network and how to plan its route through a town. I have also learnt about gravity and its effect on the water. It has been really fun. I have enjoyed seeing the water flow through and working with other people in a team.

The event was designed by experts from Thames Water, Kier and Peter Brett Associates alongside UTC Reading to introduce school pupils to STEM jobs and showcase the range of opportunities available. It is thought a skills shortage is looming for many industries which rely on STEM qualifications and there is also a notable lack of women taking up such roles.

In a survey of British firms that employ engineers and IT professionals carried out last year by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, over half reported difficulties finding the right talent and 59% described the skills shortage as a “threat” to their business in the UK.

Liz Banks from Thames Water’s education team said: “Everyone had great fun getting stuck in and thankfully most of their water networks were very well planned and constructed so we didn’t end up with too many spillages.

“The purpose of this event was to open the pupils’ eyes to the massive range of exciting jobs out there which use science, technology, engineering and maths skills in the hope they’ll consider them as future careers. From chatting to the pupils I think we’ve definitely achieved that as there was so much enthusiasm amongst them. Jobs in accounts offices or laboratories tend to be the first things which spring to mind when we think about maths and science but we’ve shown them there is so much more.”

Ian Coddington from Winnersh-based Jacobs also attended the event in his capacity as a STEMNET ambassador. Ian said: “It is important that young people have opportunities such as this to find out more about engineering. Many engineering firms are struggling to recruit because of a low level of awareness about engineering roles and what they entail. By involving children in hands-on activities like this it helps to spark their imaginations, develop their problem-solving skills and encourage them to think about future job roles.”

Pupils who took part in the events were from the following schools: Kidmore End Primary, St Anne's Catholic Primary, Alfred Sutton Primary, Caversham Primary and St Mary' & All Saints Primary.

  • Active Learning
  • Microsoft
  • Cisco
  • University of Reading
  • Network Rail
  • Peter Brett