Inspiring the next generation of digital talent

The vital work going on to connect schools and colleges with the world of digital - and how you can help!

2 years ago I arrived in Croydon with a very exciting remit – to engage the local business community in forming a network of Enterprise Advisers to connect schools and colleges with the world of work.

Careers education had suffered over the past few years from lack of funding and weak connectivity with businesses and employers. As a country, we were failing to prepare our young people adequately for employment, and as a consequence they were making career decisions without understanding the skills and aptitudes valued by modern businesses, and unaware of opportunities in local and national labour markets.

To redress this the government set up the Careers and Enterprise Company in 2015, tasked initially with setting up networks of support for schools and colleges across the country to inspire young people by connecting them with business leaders, employers and successful entrepreneurs. I was employed by Coast to Capital LEP to roll out this project in Croydon.

What I found when I arrived in Croydon was a vibrant, welcoming and innovative business community, keen to make Croydon’s regeneration work for local people. I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of Saffron Saunders at Sussex Innovation Centre in Croydon, and started my work surrounded by tech entrepreneurs and innovators keen to share their expertise. Saffron volunteered to be an Enterprise Advisor for Croydon College, who are now working closely with us to roll out the project. The Chamber of Commerce and Shaking Hands business network welcomed and continue to support me, and we have sourced some valued volunteers from their communities and from the local HR CIPD network.

During the last year we have been working hard in partnership with Croydon Council to implement the new Careers Strategy which places connectivity with workplaces and local businesses at the heart of careers education. We are collaborating to roll out their new EPIC (Employment Pathways in Croydon) initiative in 2019. EPIC is a service that connects schools and businesses to create employer engagement opportunities for young people. 

We have gradually built the network of advisers now working with Croydon schools and colleges, who are opening their doors to business inspiration. Together, we are working hard to create new opportunities for our young people to experience workplaces and to meet people from the business communities.

Some examples of the project in action:

  • Inspirational Enterprise Adviser, Julie Bowen of SThree plc, a STEM recruitment company, brought in colleagues to run workshops with year 10 students at Harris City Academy Crystal Palace. The students learnt how tech is crucial to many job roles and were encouraged to understand how to build a digital skill set that would prepare them to adapt to different workplace demands.
  • One of our greatest achievements last year was to arrange for groups of all year 10 students from Woodcote High School to visit workplaces across Croydon and Central London, finding out for themselves about opportunities and routes into employment. The Croydon tech journey was launched by an inspirational talk by Mick Robins at Connected Space who explained the range of current and potential careers opening up in the digital economy in a range of contexts and applications unthought-of when current parents and teachers were making their own career decisions. He explained the value of disruptive thinking to set the tone for the day! The students then visited the TMRW hub where Marcela Donatello explained how business hubs support innovation, and finally to Sussex Innovation Centre to meet people working there in successful start- up businesses such as Finder and Uniqodo, and finally to participate in an oil exploration simulation led by The Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain based in central Croydon.
  • The EPIC team arranged a follow up day in school: a series of workshops were supported by businesses sourced by EPIC and sponsored by tech company Rainmaker, who work with Croydon Council and have been basing themselves in TMRW while doing so. The range of activities encouraged students to explore what they had learnt the previous day and apply it to their career planning as they approach 6th form choices.

We have made an encouraging start, but there is a long way to go. Our aim is that every young person experiences meaningful contact with someone from the world of work at least once during each year that they are at school, and that all 16-19 year olds, whether at school or college, have work experience or experiences of workplaces that are directly connected to their course of study.

This is a huge undertaking – to achieve our goal, for every 7 working people in the country we need to secure a student encounter with the world of work, every year!

None of this can happen without the support of the local business community. We appreciate that some business people would like to participate, but cannot commit to the full role of Enterprise Adviser. We are keen to engage anyone who can offer connectivity in any way – even if it is just to offer a single careers talk or workplace visit per year.

We want young people, their teachers and parents to understand the range of opportunities and challenges arising from the global digital revolution. And we know what works – careers talks and workshops, workplace visits, work experience, engaging business support in contextualising learning such as setting curriculum challenges or reviewing schemes of work. Crucially, we need help to build opportunity awareness and understanding of the skill sets in demand.

We would love to hear from people in the Croydon tech community who would like to join us in inspiring the next generation – we are looking for fresh and engaging ideas for how to bring the digital future into the classroom, and its future workforce out into the business community.

Please contact us if you can help in any way to involve young people in embracing the opportunities on their doorstep as Croydon’s tech hub expands and grows.

Can you support us?

Volunteer to be an Enterprise Adviser – more about the Enterprise Adviser Network here.

If you are a business see more information here and how to contact EPIC regarding engaging schools or call Tyrone Irish on 0208 726 6000 ext: 64304 or mobile: 07809 230897.

There are many different activities that businesses can support. These include:

  • Career talks and events
  • Motivational talks
  • Application form support
  • CV workshops
  • Interview support
  • Promoting work experience and apprenticeship opportunities
  • Workplace visits or tours
  • Mentoring
  • Curriculum linked competitions


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