Sarah, a HR Consultant and Careers Coach, has been an Enterprise Adviser for the past four years, joining the programme via the CIPD. For some years, we have been working with the Careers and Enterprise Company to connect HR professionals with schools, helping teachers to bring the world of work to life through careers education. After reading about the opportunity to help close the gap between education and employment, Sarah successfully applied and was matched with a local school in Greater Manchester.

Good careers education for all young people

The Enterprise Adviser scheme supports secondary schools in England to develop a strong careers programme that supports all students. Volunteers don’t need to be career experts, but they bring their business experience, insight into industry, networks and skills to inspire young people’s futures. To ensure that every student receives great careers education, the schools supported include Special Educational Needs Schools (SEN), Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and Further Education Colleges (FE) as well as secondary schools.

Throughout her career, Sarah has helped businesses to think broadly about who and how they employ people to meet their needs. She also works with the Princes Trust, supporting a diverse range of young people, and from these experiences Sarah felt very comfortable volunteering with SEN schools to support students with additional learning needs.

Students with SEN needs include young people who have additional needs including speech language and communication needs, learning difficulties, social, emotional and mental health difficulties and physical needs. Many students will enter employment including supported employment, internships and traineeships, and many students will enjoy the same career outcomes as their peers. 65% of employment age young people and adults with learning disability want a job, but only 6% are in paid employment.

Meeting employers and getting experience of the workplace is a critical for these young people. Enterprise Advisers can help open the world of work to SEN students by sharing insight about opportunities and helping to connect the school with supportive employers who can bring opportunities for work experience and jobs.

Sarah supports two SEN schools as an Enterprise Adviser; Pioneer House and Melland High School. Pioneer House High School supports students with Complex Cognitive Difficulties, valuing the positive contribution work can make and ensuring that students’ skills are developed to ensure that all members of their community enjoy an effective contribution. Melland High School in Manchester supports students with a wide diversity of special educational needs. They focus on raising aspirations and driving up standards to ensure their students have real choices open to them when they leave school. Both schools signed up to work with a volunteer who could help them to connect with the world of work, which is where Sarah has been able to step in.

Helping the school to take their strategy forward and make it work for their students

Sarah’s first project was to review progress against benchmarks on what good looks like. She needed to help the school to understand what the framework meant, what resources existed and how they could build careers activities that work for their students.

With her HR hat on, Sarah could see that this was a change management piece of work and she helped the school to transition from their existing plans to new ways of working. She has helped them to deliver more measurable careers activity through recording, reporting, broaden activity across different year groups, and expand employer connections and encounters. She has been invited to attend and co-present at staff meetings, parent/guardian events and Governor meetings to provide updates and encourage communication and feedback.

She has also helped the schools to host several successful employer networking events, national careers week events, digital enterprise projects and careers fairs for students and parents.

Some volunteers are unsure how to best support students with additional learning needs, but Sarah has seen that the overall approach to careers education really isn’t very dissimilar to mainstream schools at all. Where the important difference lies is that with a SEN focus it is important to help connect the schools with sectors and organisations that encourage diversity and with good opportunities for SEN students. This makes a huge difference for students who can then find the right work experience activities, the right jobs and work employers that can really support them, get the best out of them and allow students to develop their strengths, skills and interests in the workplace.

Sarah says, 'I have been delighted by the relationships that I have bult with both schools – SLT, teaching staff and students, the progress we have made and the new opportunities we have been able to create for students.'

Sarah hopes that the next stage will be to support with championing the many abilities of SEN students, encouraging employers to consider opening up more opportunities for young people with disabilities.

Volunteering impact

'Success is really evident when I get to witness students having lightbulb moments during careers events and conversations and watching their eyes light up with enthusiasm!' says Sarah.

The schools are regularly measuring the success of their careers activity against the benchmarks. Both schools have either fully or nearly met all the targets and have a clear action plan in place. The schools have also increased the volume and range of careers activities, starting much earlier in the curriculum and embedding learning across different subject areas, linking to the world of work.

The schools that Sarah works with really value the support she provides. Julie Barnett, Vice Principal and Careers Lead at Melland High School says: 'Big thanks to Sarah who helps us to make great links with a wide variety of employers and always keeps us on our toes making sure we evaluate all our careers activities and provides invaluable strategic support. She has helped guide us to develop our careers strategy so much further than we could have without her professional expertise, experience and guidance.'

Why become an Enterprise Adviser?

There are so many reasons to become an Enterprise Adviser volunteer, but Sarah has narrowed down three key personal and professional benefits for her. Firstly, because it has allowed her to connect with the Education sector, a new sector that she hadn’t worked in before, she’s been able to expand her networks and develop her professional skills.

'Through allowing me the opportunity to engage with professionals in many different sectors, it has allowed me to further develop stakeholder relationships, strategic planning and consultancy skills, to extend my own business network on behalf of the schools that I work with.

Secondly, it has also allowed her to better understand young people and see through their eyes what the world of work looks like to them. 'I’ve gained a better understanding of the world of education and the needs of the next generation of young people who will be entering the workforce in a rapidly changing and turbulent world.'

And finally, Sarah finds it incredibly rewarding:

'This ground-up approach to careers has afforded me an opportunity to become involved in partnering both education and business to help create greater understanding and opportunities for young people entering our future workforce. It enables a chance to input at an early stage to the local and national economy and skills agenda and to help build strong and robust talent pipelines equipped with the skills required by workplace employers and to make a valuable difference to some of our most pressing employment challenges today. It’s interesting, demanding at times, but also fun and highly rewarding.'

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