Developing early careers engagement programmes : Wood

As part of our #CareerSpotlight Month we have been busy creating a series of content to inspire young people and tools for employers to use in planning and carrying out engagement and activities in schools. Luke Richardson from Wood kindly gave Laura-Jane his time to talk about how employers can engage with young people.

Watch the video as we discuss how employers are engaging in developing early years careers programmes in schools.

Who are Wood and what do you do?

Wood is a global leader in the delivery of project engineering and technical services through engineering and industrial markets. As a business we employ circa 55,000 people in 60 countries with revenues of about $10 billion. I recently joined them in September (2017) as a Social Impact Manager. I work on a number of contracts looking at how we can invest some of our profits on having a social impact or bringing a social value to the contract, typically as a result of the social value act.

Are you investing in schools and local communities because there is a recruitment strategy behind it or is it just about CSR? What are the core benefits?

It is more than just CSR, it is even more than just one strategy. In my role in social impact I typically cover three major strands; community, education and  supply chain.

Community involves working with local charities, partnerships with local enterprises and any form of community organisation. Education looks at work with all or selected primary & secondary schools, colleges and universities. It covers what we do with apprentices and graduates as well. Under the scope of supply chain or growth we tend to talk about what we do with SMEs particularly, but there is a growth demand in there about working with social enterprises as well.

Across all of these realistically there is a benefit to businesses being involved. If we focus on education for a second, at the end of the day the kids that are in primary and secondary schools, doing an apprenticeship or at University they are eventually going to come in to companies like Wood. We need really good people to work for us, organisations are made up of people, the better the people the better the organisation.

Tell us what you see other businesses thinking about and doing? 

Something that is quite exciting is that we are seeing a lot more coordination, a lot more focus on trying to have a collective impact. More joining of the dots and working together. That is a place that businesses need to get to very quickly. If we all work in silos we aren’t likely to achieve what we want to achieve.

We have seen employers trying to engage in this space for a while and we are seeing drivers from Government on employer led initiatives and solutions so the work going on in schools to get more young people engaged is important  Some employers were doing this before, they were creating activities and education programmes. Do you think businesses are getting smarter now at trying to coordinate what they are trying to do?

I still think there is some evolution here. If you look at other major companies which have their own programmes, they are all branded up under that company (I can understand why they do that) but there is an evolution. It would be great to see where one employer can invest a lot of money in a programme, activity or resource, it would be good to get to the point where that could be used by their supply chain, by similar companies, by other companies that maybe do not have the resource to be able develop a particular activity. You could share that with other people, there is still a bit more work to do there.

If you are a big national employer you might focus on a particular area where you are struggling to recruit or where there are social mobility hotspots but there will be other schools outside of those hotspot areas who wont get the same access or experiences. If that was more joined up and resources were more widely available we could make sure that more young people benefit from them.

There is some challenge when it is an employer branded product because some young people won’t want to work in the area you are presenting. You could spend time presenting construction to 30 to 200 young people and so many are not left with what is going to be their next step. There can be a missed opportunity in these employers being able to signpost to other places.

There is an element in there about joining the dots again. In areas like I am in now where there might be one major employer in the area. There are other employers but the main hotspot is the nuclear power station. From my experience recently, having spoken to a number of young people the general response you get back is that whilst they aren’t knocking the fact that that particular company is showcasing their opportunities they get sick and tired of hearing about just nuclear or just construction work. Actually, if you look at any nuclear construction company or any engineering company they need a team of admin staff, a lot of those companies employ occupational health nurses, a lot employ their own solicitors. There are a lot of other opportunities within those companies but they don’t do as well to showcase those. If you are an engineering company typically your company will be set towards going in to a school and saying ‘we are an engineering company, we are this big, we make this much money and you want to be an engineer’. Unfortunately that can have a negative effect. This is where employers, not only joining the dots internally about the opportunities they have got but also if employers work together they can actually share the opportunities and showcase what is available in their local area beyond the roles they have. At the end of the day we would hope that our staff had access to other services in the area like pharmacists or nurses the community needs a lot of different roles. You can’t just have one business.

What sort of activities are you involved in? What programmes are you creating? What looks good and what should people avoid doing?

One of the programmes we are working, a joint venture which we are 50% responsible for is called One Aim. We have committed to developing a primary school programme, that programme will establish a broker which will sit between primary schools and business in the region that we have identified, once it is at full capacity, which will take about 18 months as an estimate. In theory it will work with 105 primary schools and any business in the area that wants to get involved.

The idea of putting the broker in the middle is to create a very simple organisation that understands the world of education and primary schools and also understands the world of business and can marry the two of them up as and when needed. For example, when a primary school wants to get involved with employer led activities rather than only relying on who they know from the governors or from their own network or blindly sending letters or LinkedIn requests they can send and email to one person, the broker. The broker can notify them with what type of thing they are looking. That broker might say ‘actually have you thought about doing this, or we could bolt this on or do that?’ . They will then link them in to a business and the activity will take place. Vice Versa when a business wants to do something they will be able to contact the broker and explain how much they can/want to do and get input in to what that might look like. The broker can target need as well as making sure all schools in the area are getting the same level of provision.

Are you creating activities for employers that they can ‘pick off of the shelf’?

Initially there are plans to develop one ‘universal’ activity, which will be available to employers if they come to the brokerage wanting to do something to schools but don’t have anything. We will make a decision further down the line if we need to develop more. Working in partnership with businesses we will develop other resources, if it becomes apparent that we need a programme around healthy eating we could work in partnership with several gyms, something that can be shared with all but taken by any one of those gyms and run as an activity.

The locality bit is important, the relationships on a local level can have the greatest impacts, is that why you have chosen this way?

Yes, it will be good to see this expand further if it works, there’ll be a blueprint there for others to take and adapt for their own location. As much as we need a strategy at national level what we do need is a lot more focus locally. As much as a lot of things can be seen to be very much the same every area is different I have been in parts of the UK where you’ve literally got a hive of active businesses that have got a lot of people working for them in schools, but then you’ve got other areas with maybe just a school and a post office and you are waiting 20 miles before you see another business. There needs to be a particular focus on trying to link businesses with schools and that being someone at a local level coordinating.

The careers and enterprise company have had massive investments to make that coordination their role as well as building the Gatsby Benchmarks in schools. You are an Enterprise Advisor, what other activities are seeing from businesses that perhaps might be smaller, what other things can businesses get involved in?

We have seen a growth in the number of small businesses participating in another project I am involved in at secondary school level. It is another broker system focused locally. That has seen a lot of support for SMEs who have managed to get involved in things like world of work days, mock interviews and CV writing workshops. I have seen examples of a scaffolding company doing activities around scaffolding. I have seen a social media expert borrow another social media experts presentation to go in to a school and talk about the importance of social media but also the importance of privacy. One of the key things there is this ability to be able take something and share it with others, we need to do more of that. I am not sure how we do that on a more national basis but people go off and create a great activity, they run it once but how do you then share that with somebody else.

Businesses don’t always know where to start or what already exists so sharing some of those resources could save time. One of the things you have been involved in is having employers deliver our Young Professional training in schools, can you tell us more?

That is an example of something that is perfect for an enterprise advisor or if you are someone working in to a school, it is the perfect tool kit you can  download the presentations and then it is easy to find employers who can link to the 5 skills (communication, teamwork, problem solving, self belief and self management). You can give employers the pack and they can go off and run the presentations. In the school I am involved in we have managed to roll this out across 4 year groups and all have been extremely successful. In two of the year groups we had the same employers but in the other year groups it wasn’t the same employers and we have still got the same level of great feedback from the students who took part in it. That shows that it works and it is those kinds of things that we need more of.  We need to be able to get things that we can just grab and go to have the impact in the schools.

Youth Employment UK have a Young Professional programme that allows young people to build their confidence and skills in 5 key areas (communication, teamwork, problem solving, self belief and self management). To help schools and colleges encourage their students to become Young Professional Membership, which is all free, we have created 5 presentations, one for each of those skills. Our plan had been that schools would deliver it but Luke has put it on himself to find 5 employers to do those presentations. We have an off the shelf project which can be talked about by many employers.

What are the costs? Large organisations might have big budgets but that wont be the same everywhere and especially for small businesses.

The costs are really hard, realistically every project I have worked on so far the costs set aside for education, for working in the community vastly differs. I have worked on projects that have taken a key focus and wanted to place a lot of focus on education and some that might want to. There has been a lot of focus in my current project of working with secondary schools. Then you see some that don’t want to do as much, so they cut back and try and do something in other areas. Realistically whatever you can afford to do is a bonus to the young people out there. What you have to do is look at in proportion to what you’ve got, if you are a small business and you can only realistically give 2 hours a year, that is two hours more than the school would had if you don’t offer it. If you can give 12 hours, could you look at becoming a Careers and Enterprise advisors. Whatever you do have you have to think about the best way to use it. Where possible, one of the things that is really important is trying to provide a bit of sustainability around it, if you are going to make a commitment ideally you would say ‘I am going to do these many hours a year for the next X years at least, and this is what it will look like’.

In terms of return of investment that is probably one of the hardest questions, there are a lot of consultants popping up measuring the social return of investments, there are some free resources from the social value portal that try to put a value on all types of social interventions. Realistically it is still very hard to put the value on it. We are still at the point where we need employers to step up and say ‘I know one way or another I am going to get a return from it’ because as we have said before every business and every organisation is only as good as the people in it. If you aren’t making an investment in young people now you aren’t making an investment in your business for the future and that is the bottom line.

We hear lots of different benefits to employers, if you have staff that you can release to do activities in schools they develop their skills and confidence and they also feel more valued. What you don’t see immediately is the significant impact that intervention is having or had on that young persons life. Particularly if you are in Primary schools your intervention is helpful but you wont see the outputs and ‘track’ that young person. Young people do recall these meetings and visits and it is evidenced in research that these interventions make a difference.

This goes back to a good TedTalk about the global village, if you think about the world as a global village, the mistake businesses can make in trying to put a return on investment is generally to say ‘if I am doing something in a primary or secondary school is that resulting in those young people coming to work for our business’, it can be easier to track at a apprenticeship and higher apprenticeship level but not so easy at secondary and almost impossible at primary. What we should be looking at is if the collective interventions of all of the employers result in less young people being unemployed or falling in to the category of NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) and actually do these interventions have a greater impact on the long term economy and the likelihood is most likely to be yes. Having 4 or more encounters with employer reduces the likelihood of a young person becoming NEET – that is the return on the investment right there.

As communities locally and nationally we have to work together better. We know young people want to work and it is our role to help and support that. The investment we have made in the Talent Match Mark is about recognising business for the work that they do to support young people. Making sure that it is a quality interaction and intervention.

Should employers have a strategy or can it be adhoc?

One of the things is when we talk about strategy if you are a small business they just imagine that some big employer is going and writing a 20-page document. Realistically a strategy is just about working out what you are going to do, you can fit that on the back of a scrap piece of paper, it doesn’t mater where it is it matters that you have made the strategy. Goes back to idea of if you are a small business and you work out you can give 2 hours a year then working out where you direct that, right down to if you can only give a couple of hours and there are a handful of schools in your area, which of those schools has less interaction with business as that is probably going to be where you will make the biggest impact. Look at how you can help; could you be the signpost, could you direct other business people in to that school.

Top tips:

Have a think about what your capacity is, what can you do & how often

Have a think about where the highest need is

Join the dots: when you are taking part in activities (make sure you have permission) but take pictures where you can highlight and showcase it to others.

Share what you do, share the work you do, not just a case study but share the resources you create.

Coordinate and work closely together. Work with others whether that be with schools or business. We can’t have adhoc bits, we need to be more joined up.


For more information, please email or call 01536 513388.

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