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All employers regardless of size have a responsibility to shape the future workforce. And engaging with schools and colleges provides that direct path. Having managed businesses and teams of all sizes, I have seen first-hand how achievable it can be to set aside some time to work with young people in the knowledge that this reaps benefits for staff too.

I want to share my experience of supporting schools and colleges as an employer to back their recently launched Give an Hour campaign. In the space of just a few months the campaign that is calling for small businesses to give at least an hour of their time has already had pledges from hundreds of SMEs, with the involvement of 24 Local Enterprise Partnerships across the country.

As well as impacting young people in the community, the benefits to staff development are huge. The staff involved are able to recognise the bigger social impact of their work, and this is motivating. They also get the chance to learn new skills around working with young people, which could be something brand new.

Strategic thinking is paramount

First things first, it’s all about maximising the limited amount of time you can offer – as realistically we are all constrained to a certain extent – by being strategic from the outset. The Enterprise Adviser Network is the ideal way to facilitate effective working because it allows your business’ input to have a multiplier effect. So that even if you’re interacting with one school, several can benefit. Enterprise Advisers are senior business volunteers who work closely with schools and colleges in the area, making connections and building relationships with local employers.

Rather than taking an operational approach by organising and planning individual careers events which is very resource hungry, it is much more productive to offer your time in reviewing a school or college’s careers programme where your advice can really accelerate their activity.

Small business owners are used to working strategically, formulating long-term plans and connecting stakeholders to make things happen – and that’s really where they can make a massive contribution.

Supporting step by step

To begin, you can work with a school or college to break down the most important steps for what they are trying to achieve with their careers support and employer engagement i.e. for this term, this year and the following year etc. And it will be your own contacts and internal network that will make these things happen. The most important thing is that it’s an ongoing team effort.

Meeting and engaging with the head teacher and leadership team is crucial for identifying how each goal can be achieved as well as highlighting what is already working, what’s not working and what your help can improve. That really makes a difference.

In terms of challenges, the main difficulty I have faced is keeping my involvement at the right level – as once you start getting involved in the detail i.e. holding an assembly, mentoring or writing an interview pack, then the school or college could start to consume your time. And you won’t be able to say no.

However, if you have a plan from the start you can clearly articulate your commitment – they know what they expect from you and vice versa.  

Being flexible and responsive

You’ll always get schools and colleges changing arrangements at the last minute, but that doesn’t matter as long as everyone knows what the end goals are.

Over the years, I have realised that when forming this kind of partnership, businesses must remain openminded and try to avoid having any preconceived ideas. This allows the process to be as collaborative as possible. Like with any business, each school and college are different and have their own set of needs, ideas and ambitions.

What is clear to me – and at the heart of this campaign – is that bringing together schools, colleges and employers is critical to improving careers education. Schools on their own cannot be expected to maximise the potential of our young people. It’s up to businesses of all shapes and sizes to play our part, if we’re not doing so already.

To find out more about the campaign and register your interest, visit https://www.giveanhour.co.uk