Cummins has launched a global community education strategy, called Cummins READY, aimed at empowering at least one million learners and workers by 2030. Below, Peter Barron finds out more.

When he left school on the North East coast, David Hodgson had no idea what career he wanted to pursue – he wasn’t ready for the next step.

“Back then, schools just weren’t geared up for inspiring young people to see the exciting opportunities open to them in engineering, so I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do with my life,” he admits.

(Image: Cummins)

Today, in stark contrast to those uncertain teenage years, David is a man on a mission as the voluntary education lead at Cummins’ Darlington campus, with a passion to use his own experiences to inspire the next generation.

And he has the perfect platform to do just that, with the global power technology leader launching a bold new education initiative, called Cummins READY, aimed at having a positive impact on communities worldwide.

Described as the biggest educational project ever undertaken by Cummins, the ambition is to have a meaningful impact on at least one million learners and workers by 2030, with David responsible for ensuring that Darlington plays its full part.

The focus is on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and maths – with a philosophy built around inclusivity.

“Cummins READY is a fantastic initiative that underlines Cummins’ global commitment to education, and tackling the challenges in local communities, and I’m excited about seeing the impact it has here in Darlington,” says David.

He grew up in Redcar. Dad, Chris, was a multi-skilled process technician at ICI, while mum, Deborah, worked in NHS administration.

Without a career plan, he gained work experience as a gym instructor, but his life was changed when he got chatting with two men at the leisure centre where he was working. One was a Royal Marine, specialising in driving speedboats, and the other was in the RAF. 

“Speaking to those two men were lightbulb moments for me – I loved the sound of what they were doing, so I headed for the armed forces careers office in Middlesbrough,” David recalls. Based on his strengths at school, engineering was suggested, and his career took off from there. He served for eight years in the RAF, working as a technician on fast jets and travelling the world.

(Image: Cummins)

After the RAF, he worked as a mechanical engineer at Lackenby steelworks for a couple of years, before circulating his CV, and being invited for an interview by Cummins. “It opened up my eyes to the scale of the operation, and floated by boat right from the start,” he says.

David joined Cummins in 2010 as a service technician, and has enjoyed working there ever since, rising to the post of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) account manager. It’s a busy role, at the heart of Cummins’ biggest plant in Europe, but he was also keen to play his part in the company’s wider social activities.

Each Cummins employee is given four hours a year to volunteer in the community and, when the opportunity was advertised internally to be Education Lead, he jumped at it.

“If I hadn’t met those two men in the leisure centre, my life might never have taken the direction it did, so now I want to be able to influence young lives too,” he says. “Being Education Lead is my chance to put something back.”

Under David’s leadership, the Darlington campus is heavily involved in a range of educational initiatives and events, including being headline sponsor of STEMFest for the past two years. Held at Darlington Arena in March, the event – providing an invaluable insight into STEM-related careers – involved 40 companies and was attended by 1,500 children.

(Image: Cummins)

Driven by its Women’s Empowerment Network, Cummins has a strong focus on encouraging girls into engineering. International Women’s Day was celebrated at the Darlington plant in March, and, on June 20, it will stage Women in Engineering Day.

“Diversity is fundamental to everything we do, and one of my main aims is to break down any remaining barriers to gender equality,” says David. “There’s still a stigma in schools around girls in engineering but our message is that we are open to everyone.”

On May 24, an “Introduction to Cummins” event was held at the campus for primary school leaders and, on July 9, a “Community Classroom” event will take place, with 150 schoolchildren from Years 8 and 9 being invited to take part in an experience day.

The Darlington campus employs over 1,700 employees and, in 2023, they invested more than 10,000 hours of volunteering in the local community, with 2,800 of them educational, and connections were made with 50 schools. With the launch of Cummins READY, David is determined to make an even bigger impact this year.

“My aspiration is to build on those statistics by getting out to more schools, and bringing more schools onto the site,” says the father-of-three.

“We live in an area where so much is going on around new forms of energy, and improving air quality, and that technology will be part of our children’s lives. It’s their future, so we want them to be involved in shaping it.

“The hope is that, along the way, we can create those lightbulb moments. Even if we change one child’s life, it will be worth it.”

(Image: Cummins)

Last year, David was hosting a large school visit, alongside Jessica Highfield, Cummins’ communications co-ordinator, and chair of the Women’s Empowerment Network Darlington.
During a question-and-answer session after a tour of the site, a Year 6 pupil put his hand up. He didn’t ask a question, he just said: “You’ve inspired me to want to do this.

“Jess and I were both speechless because it meant so much,” says David.
For one little Darlington boy, a light had gone on – and that’s what Cummins READY is all about.

Driving Cummins READY worldwide

TWO women who share a passion for education are at the forefront of the Cummins READY campaign worldwide.

Danette Howard, the company’s Global Education Director, Corporate Responsibility, has an illustrious background in education, including serving as Secretary of Higher Education in Maryland.

While Danette is the Cummins READY global leader, she has the support of Emily Johnson, Corporate Responsibility Director for Europe.

And they both describe David Hodgson as “a great example” of how Cummins’ employees are embracing the new campaign.

“This is a mission that’s tremendously close to the hearts of our employees,” says Emily. “Ahead of the launch, we even had people calling in from their holidays, wanting to volunteer to be part of it. That’s how we know we’ve struck an area of real pride and passion.”

For Danette, Cummins READY is adding a new dimension to the company’s long track record of supporting educational opportunities in communities worldwide.

“Cummins READY is about taking what we’ve done historically and developing a more comprehensive strategy, focused on measurable impact,” she says.

“The aim of touching at least a million people is ambitious – the scale of it is huge – but the goal is achievable if we leverage our expertise and resources and find the right partners to work with us.

“STEM is not just about engineering, it’s about creativity, collaboration and teamwork, and the result will be that our communities are stronger, more competitive, and more viable, whether people work for Cummins or not.

(Image: Cummins)

“We have to not only make sure students are ready, but that our communities, and our schools and colleges, are ready to facilitate their success.”

In Darlington, and other towns and cities across the world, Cummins’ innovation, and global impact, often goes unseen and underestimated. 

People drive past plants like the one in Yarm Road, Darlington, without fully appreciating the global impact being made inside, but Danette insists it’s the company’s job to educate people about what goes on behind the scenes.

“It’s not the responsibility of local people to know what’s happening behind the walls of our buildings,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to take the work of Cummins to the people, and to bring the people in, so we make them feel part of a company that’s powering the world from within their own community.