‘The educational system cannot, without intervention from employers, fully accomplish its responsibility to educate young people so that they obtain employment, fulfil their potential and contribute fully to society and the economy.’ Stanley, J. and Mann, A. (2014) ‘A theoretical framework for employer engagement’
Conclusions like this in academic research are not alone and as a charity operating at the heart of the education sector, Future First endeavours to take an evidence-based approach to our work, collaborating with employers to have the greatest positive impact on the young people we serve. Activities involving employers in education have made great strides over the last decade, happily moving away from a week’s work experience photocopying in the nearest office block to the school. When executed with creativity, taking into account the needs of employers as well as young people, activities now range from curriculum linked corporate competitions to year-long mentoring programmes leading to employment opportunities.
Returning to the research, Dr Julian Stanley (University of Manchester) and Dr Anthony Mann (Senior Policy Advisor at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) identify four broad outcomes by which young people are impacted by employer engagement in education: enhanced understanding of jobs and careers, improved knowledge and skills demanded by the labour market, practical insights which help when transitioning to the labour market, and increased understanding of how school subjects connect to the world of work. Although undoubtedly valuable in their own right, there is nevertheless something more that can be found in the engagement of employers in education which both connects and moves beyond these four outcomes: authenticity.
Young people who engage with employers in a positive and stimulating way gain authentic advice from authentic role models, providing a trusted route towards social and cultural capital that is empowering for young people, opening up new worlds of opportunity. It is this authenticity leading to the creation of social capital which Future First places at the centre of our partnership activities with employers, working collaboratively to ensure a young person’s background does not limit their future options.
At the start of 2019, Future First entered into a new employer partnership with the Flava People in Manchester. The Flava People have been around for over 40 years starting out as a family butchers and are still an authentic family business today. Their work today is diverse, supplying the UK’s biggest retailers, restaurants and food manufacturers with both bespoke white-label products and their own home-grown food brands. The partnership activities with Future First saw Year 10 & 11 students from state schools in close proximity to the Flava People’s Sharston factory be invited in to attend a half-day food and careers insight day at their site. The activities were shaped to provide students with a true understanding of how the business functions, following the journey of a sauce product from its beginning in the product development lab, being mixed in the industrial factory to its use in a cooking demonstration for clients. Connecting this journey were the authentic interactions students were having with Flava People employees who were volunteering on the project, many of whom attended similar schools in the local area.
For the Flava People, engaging with young people was both a social responsibility and a strategic decision, as part of their initiative of using Flavour to Fuel Change. Scott Dixon, Managing Director says, ‘We believe passionately in the power of food and flavour as a tool to drive positive change, not just for businesses and brands but across education, employment and beyond. We have a responsibility to use what we have, what we know and what we’ve learnt to empower others who might not otherwise get that opportunity. Future First, with their extensive knowledge of the education sector, was the obvious partner with whom to start this journey.’
The impact of the partnership was immediately noticeable. Employee volunteers from the Flava People all reported an improved sense of unity with their colleagues as well as increased job satisfaction. 91% of the attending students reported their employability skills, including confidence and communication, had improved as a result of the activities whilst 100% reported that they were now motivated to work harder in school.’ Pippa Conley, Faculty Leader for Design & Technology at Sale Grammar School, was similarly positive about the effects of her students engaging with The Flava People, ‘Our students came back to school brimming with enthusiasm after all of the activities they took part in. I really do think they have had their eyes opened to many diverse careers and possibilities for the future.’
Within this reporting of skills development and statistics, there was something more valuable taking place; an authenticity of experience that inspires and opens up new worlds of opportunity. A Year 11 student summed up the importance of the event, ‘The volunteers’ advice helped me understand my future after school finishes. I have realised I can talk to people confidently and I will be ok, it makes sense to me now, but also if I work hard in my GCSE’s I can get the job I really want.’
At Future First we remain committed to the values of social justice, ensuring a young person’s start in life does not limit their future options. However, this is only possible through continuing to collaborate with responsible employers like The Flava People, working together to enable young people in local communities to flourish and contribute fully to society and the economy in the future.
If your organisation would like to discuss a partnership with Future First, please contact Alex Fleming, Head of Partnerships & Development.