Kevin has been volunteering as an Enterprise Adviser in Cumbria since 2016. He wanted to continue to use his strategic skillset when he retired as an HR Director, and the opportunity seemed like an ideal fit.
Kevin was matched to a school that matched his own background. Awareness of the social mobility and limited aspirations of many students in the local area presented an exciting challenge to help to address some of the wider societal issues and help students to develop their thinking beyond some of the traditional career paths that they might have seen as their only options. Many of the students see securing opportunities in local industry such as at local shipping yards as the 'golden ticket' to a job for life – Kevin saw the role as an opportunity to question some of this ingrained thinking.
Working strategically with the school
Kevin’s approach to supporting the school has been focussed on the strategic skill set he brings to the table. Quickly the Gatsby Benchmarks became the key area of focus. Kevin helped the school to look at these from a business perspective, helping them to think about linking careers to the school’s values.
The school already had a wealth of activities in careers education and was aware of the external activities from companies and organisations in the careers space, as well as having strong relationships with Universities and Colleges. Kevin knew that by staying strategic he could help with the big picture thinking, supporting the Careers Leader to pull together a strong careers strategy.
Kevin, the Careers Leader, Deputy Head and Local Enterprise Partnership, worked through SWOT analysis, culminating in an action plan. Along with his business sector approach, Kevin used all elements of the CIPD professional map to shape his interactions with the school, and called on many elements of the HR profession from performance management techniques, goal setting, training and development, organisational development, and service and delivery. Ultimately, he sees the role as a project manager, bringing in a business mindset and being able to softly challenge the status quo.
He has also acted as a mentor and sounding board for the Careers Leader - using mentoring techniques such as open ended questioning has allowed Kevin to create a good working relationship with the school where they bounce ideas off of him as they develop their strategy.
The biggest success for Kevin has been supporting the school in bringing their careers strategy together.
He has also supported a 'Guess my job' event where he tapped into his network and organised the line-up of professionals from physicists, to an ex teacher, to a HR professional, an author and a financial sector professional. Kevin also got involved in one of the school’s careers fairs. This helped him to contextualise the activities taking place, but he still sees the biggest added value through the strategic skills he’s been able to bring in.
Abbie Rawlinson, Careers Leader at Furness Academy, says; 'Kevin has helped Furness Academy with a more cohesive strategic approach to career planning and delivery from year 7 to 11. Part of his role has developed to become a ‘critical friend’ style, quizzing and questioning and seeking rationale for planned activity and events. Kevin’s key focus has definitely been to ensure the organisation has progressed the Gatsby benchmarks collectively, keeping a firm focus on all benchmarks.'
Getting the schools website updated with the new careers activities, so that all students and parents can see the careers activities taking place, has been a major challenge. Kevin also sees the challenges that Careers Leaders are faced with; not only do they often have multiple roles in the school, but they are also tasked with securing buy-in to embed careers into the syllabus with curriculum leads and teachers, who also have a lot of responsibilities and are restricted by their duty to deliver the curriculum. Kevin has helped to tackle this by working with the Careers Leader on how to take a strategic approach to stakeholder buy-in.
Another challenge for schools is the sheer volume of initiatives that exist around careers; there is a constant output of new initiatives, reports and 'flavours of the month' relating to career activities and it can be overwhelming.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the work with the school did slow down. However, careers education continued at Furness Academy with senior leaders recognising that COVID had affected the ability of the school to maintain the quality of their career guidance, and so more time and attention was devoted to the importance of careers education. Employers also remained active in supporting remote careers education through virtual offerings.
Kevin continued to support careers education during the pandemic by gathering a strategic view of how things had been for Careers Leaders, to help build an approach in schools that helps rebuild, reconcile and recover the way out of the pandemic.
Kevin will be looking at how schools can begin to engage with the Skills Builder Universal Framework that CIPD has been part of developing alongside The Careers & Enterprise Company, Business in the Community (BITC), the Gatsby Foundation, EY Foundation and the Skills Builder Partnership. The framework speaks to what employers need and will help teachers to see whether we are developing the skills in young people in the classroom that they need in the workplace.
'I get a lot of intrinsic reward from seeing the Careers Leader develop, seeing the strategy take place and the action happen,' says Kevin. As a football fan, Kevin likes to bring a football management mindset to his work; 'The strategy is now on track, the team is ready and next season we’ll start winning those trophies!'
Kevin would advise volunteers to keep it strategic; 'especially if you have a full-on job you can be pulled into an overwhelming amount. Keep in mind that you are acting as a strategic advisor.' He adds that doing this will be beneficial to professionals in their development, providing a space to try some strategic activity and take it back into the workplace.
He also had advice for students (or anyone else!) thinking about their own career: 'Remember that careers are not ladders, it’s crazy paving. Getting on the 'wrong rung' isn’t necessarily the wrong thing, you’ll get a fabulous career from moving around.'