Willy Wonka - An Engineering Role Model?

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The importance of role models


We have blogged many times before on the importance of getting young people into manufacturing. We have also identified many ways through which this could be achieved – experiencing the world of manufacturing, getting those subject choices right, and inspiring and informed careers advice.

There are a number of people who influence young people's career decisions – peers, parents, teachers, siblings and role models.

Concerns have been raised that too many young people aspire to be the next Beyonce or Wayne Rooney. Growing up my role model was Willy Wonka. Anyone who built, owned and lived in a Chocolate Factory was an inspiration to me. (The bricks were chocolate, the cement holding them together was chocolate, the windows were chocolate….) I was the female Charlie Bucket.

Willy Wonka – An engineering role model?

What my younger self perhaps did not realise is that Willy Wonka, and indeed his many Oompa Loompas were actually engineers. Now I know when we refer to people as ‘engineers' we need to err on the side of caution, but let's think about it –

With a little help from colleagues in the construction sector Willy Wonka needed to build his Factory. Mr Wonka would have needed to get the temperature of the chocolate to build his factory just right and therefore thought about how to keep it cold enough as not to melt. He and his troop of Oompa Loompas would have needed to explore the thermal insulation properties of different chocolate, and how refrigeration was important during the manufacture of its chocolate bricks and window panes.

Grandpa Joe told us that Mr Willy Wonka himself invented more than two hundred new kinds of chocolate bars, each with a different centre, each far sweeter and creamier and more delicious that anything the other factories can make. Whilst there were only five Golden Tickets, Willy Wonka must have made thousands of regular chocolate bars to entice the people of Charlie Bucket's town to buy his bars.Therefore he would have had the engineering capabilities to design and develop a machine capable of producing hundreds of chocolate bars an hour, with the ability to randomly insert Golden Tickets in a select few of them.


Then there was the flowing chocolate lake that Augusta Gloop fell into (before getting sucked a pipe). Willy Wonka would have needed to melt the chocolate just right - the art of tempering. The Oompa Loompas would have needed to identify that the melting point of cocoa butter is around 36 degrees (body temperature). They would have needed to ensure they don't scorch the chocolate by putting the temperature too high. They would have also needed to ensure they don't melt it too fast, and those working in food and drink manufacture will tell you if you do that the fats and solids will separate. This would give you a crumbly effect not the flowing lake effect they were initially looking to achieve.


Engineering is also about innovation. Willy Wonka had his own Inventing Room, which is where Violet Beauregarde chewed a piece of experimental gum, before blowing up into a giant blueberry. Creating such a piece of gum would have undoubtedly required engineers to think about the chemicals and processes required to develop and produce a gum that doubles up as a filling three course meal. He would no doubt had invested heavily in R&D to produce some innovative products. His Oompa Loompas would have probably doubled up as research scientists and chemical engineers to complete the task.

Inspiring the next generation of Chocolate Engineers

If I had visited Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and not got sucked up a pipe, turned into a giant blueberry, had nuts thrown at me by squirrels and thrown down the rubbish chute or accidentally shrunk myself using a teleport then perhaps I would have pursued a career in engineering.

Whilst there is no real Willy Wonka Factory what we can do is use engineering methods using chocolate to get young people thinking about how manufacturing is all around us.

So this Easter, amongst scoffing our faces with chocolate eggs, let's try and inspire the next generation of chocolate engineers. To get you started, I have pulled a couple of activities to get you started –

Snacktory Factory (via Tomorrow's Engineers)

A new employment opportunity is going at the local chocolate factory – the job is a lead process engineer. The job will go to whoever can build the best chocolate bar assembly line. The task is to build a prototype assembly line that demonstrates how you could add toppings to the chocolate bars automatically, without contaminating the chocolate by touching it with your hands. You need to show you can create products quickly too.

Welding with Chocolate (via the National Stem Centre and The Welding Institute)

Bridges are made of all kinds of materials, wood, stone, steel, bamboo or concrete. The best material is the one that is cheaply available, and which will perform its required function. So what about making a chocolate bridge? Which chocolate product would work best – a Milky Bar or a Curly Wurly? And which structure would work best a Chocolate Plank Bridge or Chocolate Box Girder Bridge?

A short (and chocolatey sweet) policy message

In the absence of real life Willy Wonka's and Oompa Loompas, getting young people excited about engineering can be a challenge, but consistent messaging, activities and a sustained campaign can do so. Each year the Big Bang Fair surveys its young attendees to ask how the Fair had changed their perceptions of engineering – for boys and girls it is always positive. What we need to do however is ensure that we keep manufacturing and engineering in the spotlight. This needs to be a joint effort – Government, industry, schools, young people and others. We also need to ensure that we don't duplicate our efforts but work together.

There is a policy message here (I promise) – A call for a long-term sustained campaign to get young people into manufacturing and engineering, with everyone working together and not in silos.

Anyway, I must go now, apparently there is an Easter egg shortage crisis and I am going to need to melt down some eggs to make my bridge.


Head of Education & Skills Policy

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