Want to help shape the future? Put your skills to use as an Enterprise Advisor…

Feb 11, 2022

photo by Patrick Fore of sun shining through trees on a forest path

By Moira Shaftoe and Karen Woodward, Business Partnership Managers, EngineeringUK

Both business partnerships managers at EngineeringUK, Moira and Karen live and work at opposite ends of the country but they both volunteer as enterprise advisors. Here they reflect on their experience, share what they have learned and look forward to the year ahead.

Enterprise Advisors are business volunteers who give their time to help bridge the gap between the world of work and education, working with the careers leader and wider senior leaders of a secondary school or college to create opportunities for all young people.

Moira is linked to an alternative provision academy in the North East while Karen is supporting a specialist maths school in the South West.

Why should we be linking educators and employers?

In Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s 2011 Sundance documentary ‘Miss Representation’ Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, coined the phrase ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. And I’m sure many of you will have heard of, or quoted, the Socrates phrase ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’.

To boost young people’s understanding of jobs and careers, broaden their horizons, raise career aspirations, and support them to make informed decisions about their futures, we must increase and improve engagement between education and the world of work.

Enterprise advisors help to coordinate improvements in careers education, supporting schools and colleges to develop and improve their careers programmes and, specifically, the level and quality of employer engagement with young people.


How did you become an enterprise advisor?

Last year I was approached by my local Careers Hub and asked if I would like to become an enterprise advisor. I was asked to support a specialist maths school. I was flattered and scared in equal measure and my first thought was – it’s a long time since I was at school and I’m not that good at maths, I won’t be able to help. I was reassured that I didn’t need to know a lot about maths, or schools. I just needed to know about some of the careers and careers pathways that young people who have studied maths might be able to follow and to be willing to share any contacts and knowledge that I had to support the careers leader in the school.

As a business partnership manager at EngineeringUK I have a wonderful network of STEM employers that I work with and whom I thought would probably be willing to help me if I asked, and so, supported by my manager and employer, I said yes.

I signed up as an enterprise advisor in February 2021, requesting a match to an alternative provision academy, which provides education to 11 to 16 year olds outside of mainstream education. I was really drawn to their mission and ethos - aspiring to ensure that educational disadvantage is minimised by providing their students every opportunity to achieve their potential, regardless of circumstance.

My role as an enterprise advisor is to support the academy to build an effective careers programme for young people who have faced and are trying to overcome challenges that most of us never have to experience. Many of them have not only lost hope but have also lost the skills and attributes needed to succeed in a modern educational landscape. 

What support have you been able to offer?

In the past year, I have reviewed and commented on their strategic plan for delivery of Careers Education, Information, Advice & Guidance (CEIAG), receiving positive feedback on the questions I asked and comments and suggestions I made, and have been able to signpost the careers lead to a variety of opportunities to explore in support of her work. Supporting the academy has been an enriching and rewarding experience, though unfortunately the pandemic has impacted progress on delivery of our employer engagement ideas.


Have you drawn on support from your STEM employers network?

Absolutely. It’s been wonderful to involve my employer contacts in supporting the school and students. I knew I could rely on them and they haven’t disappointed! Some of our Corporate Members (Atkins, Stantec and WSP) as well as Code Signatory, the Met Office have been fantastic, providing content for the school’s careers booklet. One of the other ways employers are supporting is by providing an industry project for the students. This is something Stantec and Thales are looking at at the moment and fingers crossed we’ll be able to make happen this year.


What have you learnt from the experience?

The journey so far has been interesting. I’ve gained greater appreciation of the real challenges that alternative provision schools can face in just trying to establish day to day norms at the best of times, let alone in the grips of a pandemic.

It’s also been frustrating at times, with extended periods of radio silence on the part of my careers contact due to competing priorities, requiring patience and determination on my part to keep the conversation flowing and partnership alive.I’ve gained greater understanding of the transient nature of the cohort of young people in alternative education, which can change regularly and, as one of the biggest challenges for them is attendance, it can be a huge undertaking to embed an effective and stable careers programme.

The realisation that enrichment days at the academy often involve workshops to teach young people affected by violence, and at danger in the community, how to stay safe and emergency first aid to give them the skills to save lives, has been very eye-opening.

A year in, I’d say the main things I’ve learnt are:

  • That saying yes to doing something that scared me has been and continues to be fun, rewarding and enlightening. I am learning so much by working with the school and their senior team. This is also supporting my ‘day job’ by helping me to understand more about young people and the education system and the demands being placed upon both. I am learning new things and meeting hardworking and inspirational new people.
  • Employers are quite willing to offer their time, knowledge, and support when we are willing to take time out to explain what we need them to do and why it will help to support the school and the students.
  • That the careers leader and teaching staff are passionate about offering support to their students so that they can achieve their ambitions and their own ‘next best step’ (to quote the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) which supports this scheme).
  • That I am not alone. There is a wonderful support network of enterprise coordinators and other enterprise advisors volunteering their time to help. I have now been invited to join a new network consisting of local inspiring female business leaders – which I consider to be an absolute privilege.
  • There are also lots of resources including access to webinars, tools, templates, and case studies, produced by the CEC to help support the enterprise advisors.
  • That I don’t need to be an expert on the curriculum, on careers advice or even in maths – other people do this brilliantly, so I don’t have to. What I can do is bring my own perspective, knowledge, enthusiasm, and ideas to the table.
  • That promoting this role to other employers is far easier now that I understand it better and I can show that I am practising what I am preaching.

What next?

I would like to continue volunteering this year and I am looking forward to meeting my link governor for careers with my careers leader to review and refresh the school’s careers strategy. I am also hoping to meet some more of the tutors and the students and who knows I might even manage to improve my maths!

I believe we’re at the start of an exciting journey to connect more and varied employers into a customised careers programme at the academy to help inspire their students about their futures.

Finally, what 3 words would you use to sum up the enterprise advisor experience?

Moira: worthwhile, rewarding, challenging
Karen: fascinating, inspiring, enriching

If you have the opportunity to give some time to volunteering, and are keen to help shape the future, why not put your knowledge, skills and expertise to great use in a local school or college as an enterprise advisor?

You can find out more information about the role on the Careers & Enterprise Company website


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

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