How to inspire school children to dream of business success

A green Jaguar and a nice suit – that’s what sealed the deal for me. It was 30-odd years ago at my Bradford comprehensive and a former pupil was visiting as part of an employer engagement programme to talk about careers in accountancy. He told my class about aspiration, hard work and that doing well at school had set him up for a great career.

As a teenager growing up in Bradford, my aspirations at the time were pretty much limited to playing football. But this talk made an impression on me. The nice suit and the Jaguar XJS parked by the school gates caught my eye and my imagination. But more important was seeing someone like me getting on – if he could do it, why couldn’t I? A seed was planted that day which led in time to setting up my own company.

I told this story recently at an event designed to get employers in the Bradford region to support young people in the workplace. Nav Chohan, Principal at Shipley College, also spoke about how employers can support the district’s Industrial Centres of Excellence (ICE). These centres enable 14 to 19-year-olds to link up with local businesses to earn qualifications, learn new skills and gain valuable employment experience.

Nav has 25 years’ experience in education and is chair of both the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges (WYCC) and Leeds City Region Skills Network. When he speaks, people listen. He noted how some young people from modest backgrounds don’t have access to the same opportunities as middle class kids. Meeting someone in a business, charity or public sector organisation through skills programmes might be the first time that they hear about different careers from someone who isn’t a parent or a teacher. What Nav said really struck a chord with me and took me back.

There are currently five ICEs in the region, offering young people work placements, mentoring visits to employers and advice on career development. Nav urged more businesses to get involved with the ICEs because he’s seen first-hand what they can do: Shipley College was first, with the Centre of Excellence in Business (Cofe4B) opening its doors in 2013. The Centre of Excellence in the Built Environment came in 2014. Next was the Centre of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering (Creative and Digital Technologies), which launched in 2015. Two more Centres of Excellence – in Computing, Science and Environmental Technologies; and in Health and Social Care, have since followed.

The Bradford region is home to many fantastic businesses which need a supply of talented employees to grow. But we need to get much better at connecting businesses with the educational needs of young people.  ICEs are different because the curriculum has been developed in partnership by local businesses, schools and colleges to provide routes into work, training and education. They work well precisely because employers and educators work together with a shared aim.

As part of Bradford’s economic growth strategy, we want to add £4bn to the district’s economy, create 20,000 new jobs and improve the skills of nearly 50,000 people by 2030. We are already making good headway. Everyone can contribute to this, but as the youngest city in the UK, it is Bradford’s young people – the entrepreneurs and employees of tomorrow – who will make the difference.

The aim is that ICE programmes will support 3,100 students on placements in 20 secondary schools in the region. There are plans for four new ICEs in the next two years: the creative, digital and the arts will launch in September and will be followed next year by centres in hospitality and tourism; public service and law; and transport and logistics. To make them successful we need the support of local employers.

There’s lots of ways employers can help our young people to get on – support an ICE; offer extended work experience to a young person; become a governor of a school or college; or go back to your old school and talk about your education and career. The point is that business needs to roll up its sleeves and get involved.

My taste in suits and cars has certainly evolved since that classroom visit 30-odd years ago. But the importance of each generation doing its bit to raise the aspirations of our young people never changes.

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club

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