Unilin immerses children and youngsters in engineering and technology
Learning with their hands and eyes: that is how Unilin lets children and youths experience the world of engineering and technology, also known as STEM. Because that is precisely the key to the company’s success. Not just children and grandchildren of Unilin employees but also pupils from local schools are encouraged to choose a technical job when they graduate.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics: an array of technical, technological, mathematical and exact science courses and professions. The driving forces behind the STEM activities at Unilin include Bart Den Tijn (Operations Learning & Training Manager) and Lies Langedock (Talent Development Partner) in cooperation with Ruben Van Asch (Talent Partner), who is in charge of Campus Recruitment. Unilin organises and supports a range of initiatives targeting children from the fourth, fifth and sixth years of primary school and the final years of secondary education.
Employees of the future
Ruben: “At Unilin we need an abundance of technical profiles but like all other companies we are being confronted with severe labour market shortages. That is why we share our love of STEM with children and adolescents. The initiatives match with our philosophy of lifelong learning: we mainly learn by doing. This hands-on learning approach in combination with a high fun factor appeals most to our young target audience. This way we want to kindle their enthusiasm for STEM and who knows, we may get to welcome them back to Unilin at some later stage!”
The Dive as central STEM location
Since the start of this year Unilin has a brand-new training facility – The Dive – where STEM activities can be organised year-round. Bart: “At the request of the Engineering Academy of university college VIVES we organise the occasional tour of our Wielsbeke site for pupils in the fourth and fifth years of primary education. The Dive recently welcomed its first group of school children: they couldn’t get enough of the big experience wall in the entrance hall!”
Older pupils are also finding their way to The Dive because that is where the STEM workshops are held. Bart: “At the request of the schools we developed an active educational offer of 12 different workshops, the ‘light’ versions of our own in-house training courses. And it’s going really well.”
Lies: “This summer is the first time we are organising Repair Teens in The Dive. It’s a summer camp in conjunction with university college VIVES. The camp consists of workshops of approximately three hours with a focus on circularity and recovery, a perfect match with our sustainability vision. First- and second-year secondary school students - children and grandchildren of Unilin employees - are taught a range of techniques. They learn how to use a 3D printer and laser cutter, they learn how to repair a bicycle, ...”
From assembling robots to assignments with forklifts
Several years ago, Unilin also started sponsoring STEM activities in the wider region around Wielsbeke. Bart: “In 2018 we organised our first ROBOT-STEM camp together with VIVES. In theory, our classic child care system caters to children up to the age of twelve but in practice it’s mostly used by the little ones. At the ages of 9 and 11 respectively, my own children were less than enthusiastic about child care. That is how the collaboration with the Engineering Academy came about. Today we sponsor ROBOT-STEM camps in different locations for 8-to-12-year-olds: we refund half the enrolment fee for Unilin staff.”
Meanwhile some 90 children of Unilin staff have attended these camps. So why this offering for such young children? Bart: “Especially in the fifth year of primary school, children are already weighing their secondary school options. These camps are aimed at helping them discover how much fun STEM can be!”
Shortage professions in the spotlight
The first Professions Rally Bart and Lies organised in 2022 in conjunction with Beroepenhuis Gent was a roaring success. Lies: “During the Professions Rally we introduce students from the fifth, sixth and seventh year of secondary education to five of our shortage professions. For this purpose we organised a number of short and - most of all - fun interactive activities that fit in with shortage professions. For instance, they had to complete a course with remote-controlled mini forklifts or carry out an assignment.” Some 80 students took part in our maiden edition and this fall we’re doing it again.