Duncan Willoughby Enterprise Coordinator at GFirst LEP sets out the role of The Enterprise Coordinator

Many teachers and schools do not realise that they have an Enterprise Adviser – they can be very useful and are part of a larger network. For many Business Studies Departments in particular, it can  be hugely beneficial, in terms of business links, to know who your
Enterprise Adviser is.

In 2016 GFirst LEP received its first funding to be the facilitator in Gloucestershire for the Careers and Enterprise Company’s volunteer Enterprise Advisor Network, a network of volunteers working strategically in secondary schools and colleges to help them to deliver their careers education programmes.

In the broadest sense the network of Enterprise Advisors was intended to be a group of senior business volunteers who would work alongside members of the schools SLT’s, and to act as key advisors and “critical friends” in terms of the content and development of the career education plan for the respective school they would work with. In reality, the role is a great deal more nuanced than this and has breadth and depth not only at a local level in Gloucestershire, but across England where Enterprise Advisors work with thousands of secondary schools and academies, creating a huge pool of experience upon which to draw.

In Gloucestershire, the Education and Skills team of GFirst LEP has a long pedigree of delivering careers, skills and enterprise activities primarily in secondary schools and colleges. The current team has inherited a legacy which dates back well over 15 years and our current activity builds upon the bedrock of activity originally delivered by Gloucestershire EBP (Education Business Partnership). This heritage has not only enabled the current team to leverage networks and key contacts established over many years,  but also to develop a range of interfaces for business volunteers to engage with the LEP and specifically the Education team and its work in local schools. The consequence of this, is that not only can prospective volunteers select from a menu of activities including practice interviews, mentoring, and acting as facilitators at enterprise activities to suit their needs, such activity can act as a “training pool” for those volunteers who would like to deepen their involvement with schools, but need an area to test it out. Since people volunteer for a variety of reasons, e.g. giving something back to the community, the corporate social responsibility of their company, or for recruitment purposes, it is essential that they see what schools are really like from the inside, the corollary being that they often find their expectations are fulfilled, but equally as people unaccustomed to working in modern secondary schools it can be quite an eye opener in terms of the pressures schools work under.

If volunteering to become an Enterprise Advisor (E.A.) can be viewed as a journey, it is one that we as a team are prepared to accompany business people on from recruitment to being successfully embedded in a school. In the first instance we can act as a “moderator” straddling the gap between the expectations of businesses and the realities of education. When recruiting a prospective E.A. it is about ensuring that the business person is under no illusions that building a successful relationship with a school takes time, patience, and importantly a keen understanding that the pressures schools work under are multitudinous and do not always bear direct relation to the delivery of education, skills and work readiness.

Having introduced the prospective E.A. to the landscape of local secondary and tertiary education, the arena in which they’ll work, we look at ways to match the background and interests of the individual to a school requesting an E.A. This is not an exact science and one that cannot guarantee immediate success, but it does necessitate the need on our part to be good listeners, but also agile enough to seize opportunities, and the clear signals that a particular business person will be a good match (or not) for a particular school. When reflecting back on our pedigree as an organisation, it is important to emphasise, that by knowing our local schools well, we are in a strong position to anticipate their needs, and consequently who in our judgement will be a good matching E.A. for them. It is a process that cannot be rushed and one that we take very seriously. Our mantra is, that we would rather a school didn’t have an E.A. in the short term, than rush the process and match them with someone who is either inappropriate to their needs, or someone who perhaps doesn’t share the values of the school. Adopting the fundraising adage that, “people give to people” the organisation to organisation match is one that is about shared values and expectations.

It would be unfair to single out individual E.A.’s for special mention in this article, so to fully explain the value that they bring to Gloucestershire, it is probably best to examine some of the broad achievements of the network.

E.A.’s working in Gloucestershire collectively have helped our local schools to place careers education at centre stage in terms of their priorities. importantly they have helped our schools to examine the raison d’être of the education and skills they deliver and the relationship of this to the skills pipeline, and the needs of the local, regional and national labour market. This has been most noticeable in schools that have traditionally concentrated on academic excellence and have viewed careers education as something which has existed on the periphery of their responsibilities. E.A.s working in tandem with their supporting Enterprise Coordinators have been able to help schools to view their careers education through the prism of local need, and to re-examine the validity of the destinations of their students. Many schools in the county are excellent in “triaging” their students towards the most appropriate educational training and employment destinations post 16 and post 18, but often the supporting exploration of career options, and work-readiness skills have not always walked hand-in-hand with the rationale for the chosen destination or have simply not been given enough time to ferment. By sharing labour market information, particularly data products arising out of our developing relationship with UCAS, and their “real world” experience of the labour market, E.A.’s have been able to help careers leaders, to look beyond the Gatsby Benchmarks and the delivery of specific activities to the more esoteric science of establishing the value added by workplace and employer encounters to educational progress and achievement.

E.A.’s working in the county have increasingly benefited from the coalescence of partnerships and joint working that the education team has fostered under the broader remit of the LEP. Firstly this has enabled the education and skills team to bring local stakeholders and key players to a common table to examine common issues and barriers related to the acquisition of skills and the work readiness of young people in the county. By dint of the team’s position in the LEP, strategic priorities and initiatives to future proof and develop the local economy have been cascaded through to key educational players in part via the E.A. network. Empowering schools to feel part of the local solution and not isolated from it, is something E.A.’s locally have helped to enable. In one specific case, a local school is on the cusp of repositioning its curriculum to enable its USP to be a “careers school”. This is in no small part due to the work of the E.A. working in this school to help them to lever off local networks in the public and private sector, and helping their recently appointed Careers Leader to view the spectrum of opportunities to work with SME’s up to large national and multinational companies based within a mile or two of the school doors. The school is embarking on a journey that sees beyond careers education simply being a case of organising work experience and establishing destinations, to one where career exploration and the development of employability are intrinsic to the delivery of qualifications. Furthermore and most importantly this repositioning of mission should engender the development of happy, engaged and empowered young people making their first steps into the world of work and life.

Duncan Willoughby, Enterprise Coordinator, GFirst LEP