News & Insights 3 October 2022

How volunteer tutoring is helping ARUP to connect to its purpose as an engineering design firm

tutoring tips

In human-centred design, establishing deep empathy to understand the needs and interests of people is critical.

Engineers, designers, architects, and other professionals who work in the design space today have a greater advantage when they put the people for which they design solutions or projects, at the heart of the process. This design approach makes people resonate deeply with the product or project.

For Global sustainable development consultancy, Arup, building the empathy and humanitarian value of its workforce is supported through its Community Engagement Programme, where their technical and strategic capabilities are employed to support the most disadvantaged people. One of the ways Arup tries to shape a better world is by focusing on delivering social value and providing skills, time and expertise to help communities and organisations, through volunteer tutoring. 

In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, it partnered with Action Tutoring, an education charity that optimises the power of trained volunteers to deliver tutoring to disadvantaged children who need academic help. The charity trained interested employees from Arup and equipped them with workbooks to teach pupils who were struggling with maths and English in Bristol and London.

Emily Walport has worked with Arup as a Materials Engineer for close to seven years, after joining as a graduate engineer. Alongside her engineering role, she supports the management of Arup’s Community Engagement Programme (CEP), of which volunteer tutoring is a key component in the UK. A primary focus for their CEP in the UK region is to inspire children about sustainable development in the built environment. 

“It’s really valuable to have insights from the communities we are designing for and volunteer tutoring gives us that advantage. Understanding the people and communities we build for has to be an integral part of our projects if we are to deliver socially useful, high-quality projects, at the core of Arup’s mission to shape a better world.”

Through tutoring young children, Arup’s employees are not only imparting knowledge and learning teaching skills but also using the opportunity to encourage more young people to consider pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). For Arup engineer Beth Lockhart, she has started seeing the positive outcomes of this effort. “Already, two of my pupils have expressed interest in engineering after our constant interaction and their appreciation of mathematics over time. Being able to get them to think about STEM careers excites me because engineering can be quite classist and usually not a domain for people from disadvantaged backgrounds so I think it’s great to change that.”

Beth believes by helping young people to see a STEM career as something they can pursue in the future, serves as a push to help them be more academically focused and ignites their interest in these careers.

Sense of satisfaction

For professionals, there is a lot to gain from volunteer tutoring. Research has shown that volunteering is beneficial as it helps people live happier, more fulfilled lives and also gain ‘people skills’ from interacting with different individuals in communities. “Volunteering to teach maths has helped me develop an ongoing mentoring relationship with my pupils. I’m currently tutoring two Year 6 pupils in maths and I gain a sense of satisfaction from their academic progress over the period while I build a relationship with them,” Emily said.

“Sometimes it’s easy to forget how difficult some people may find things we take for granted as being able to do. Tutoring has been a great reminder of the importance of being able to explain concepts clearly and how to reframe ideas to help young people understand. I have developed invaluable skills in communication.”

Beyond teaching experience, volunteer tutors report that the razor-sharp questions and pure, unfiltered sincerity in responses of pupils require them to be on their toes and develop the virtues of tolerance, patience, and other social abilities which they transfer into their line of work.

Attracting and retaining talent

Volunteering is great for attracting and retaining great talent at Arup, as many people join the firm because they want to do socially-useful work, either in their day-to-day role or their community engagement programme. Emily said one recurring piece of feedback they receive from members is that the company-wide support for volunteering by encouraging all to participate in social impact work is their driving motivation for joining and being at Arup.

“We have members with an enormous range of skills and talent that can benefit young people socially, academically, and professionally. Tutoring and mentorship serve as the vehicles to impart that knowledge and help connect them to a higher purpose.”

Multiple studies, including a Stanford Business School survey, have shown that young people increasingly want to work at socially responsible companies. There is a strong case for employee volunteering opportunities that build a company’s reputation for corporate social responsibility and ethics.

Level the playing field

Action Tutoring is striving to level the playing field in education. On average, disadvantaged pupils are 18 months behind their peers by the end of secondary school, according to the Education Policy Institute report.  Pupils who do not achieve GCSEs are more likely to become NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) around age 16 and currently, there are 692,000 young people who are NEET – that’s nearly 1 in 10.

Advantaged children may have access to tutors their families can pay for, unlike their disadvantaged peers.  Action Tutoring fights for an equal playing field, by giving disadvantaged children the tutoring needed to thrive academically and pairing them with people who can inspire them to learn and raise their career aspirations. Volunteers from diverse backgrounds dedicate an hour of tutoring, both virtually or in-person, to a pair of pupils each week during an academic term to improve their performance in English or mathematics.

Action Tutoring’s Fundraising Manager, Hannah O’Neill, said that companies gain enormous advantages and privileges when their employees volunteer through tutoring, beyond reducing the academic attainment gap and tackling education inequalities.

“Interacting with young people from the local community helps employees and businesses to understand the culture, economy, strengths, and challenges of their environment currently and into the future. These insights enable companies to build emotional connections and gain fresh, diverse perspectives to help them to deliver effective services that resonate with their community’s needs.”

Striving for a fairer society

Emily affirmed that volunteer tutoring reminds her of the need to strive for a fairer and equal world for all children, including those left behind by inadequate schooling and the inability to access tutoring. The tutoring sessions inspire these children to increase their career aspirations and expose them to a brighter future.

As someone in an engineering career who has benefited from opportunities that helped me get here, I am passionate about supporting initiatives that strive to support all children to achieve their potential. If children don’t have the opportunities or the awareness that engineering is a career path they can pursue, that could limit their future outcomes,” Emily said.

Hannah believes companies can have a greater impact by partnering with charities like Action Tutoring to optimise the value of their employee talent and engender social change.

More individuals from professional backgrounds or companies can come in and equip children from disadvantaged backgrounds with the academic skills and guidance to excel academically and professionally. Through these engagements, we can build a better and equal world for younger generations to come.