Did you know that after four or more encounters with employers, young people become 86% less likely to be ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET)? Initiatives like ‘See it Be it in Sheffield’ (SIBI) bridge the gap between schools and colleges and local employers, making sure that every young person in the city has access to employer encounters and workplace experiences. SIBI is also on a mission to demystify industries like digital, to show the next generation of workers what their careers, and pathways into them, can look like. We found out more from Charlotte Bjorck, Senior Project Officer at SIBI, and Andrew Sherwin, Director at technology firm, The Curve who is a volunteer and SIBI Ambassador.
Research has shown that young people who have access to employers on multiple occasions are less likely to drop out of education, training or employment. Not only this, after four or more employer encounters, young people are likely to earn 18% more than their peers.
The benefits to young people are obvious and to employers too. Andrew Sherwin has volunteered in schools and colleges throughout his career and been an Ambassador for the SIBI scheme in Sheffield since 2022. He says this work leaves him feeling ‘energised’ as it gets him in front of the next generation of talented young people, who may well remember The Curve when they enter the jobs market.
But there are not enough businesses from our sector engaging with schools and colleges. We asked Charlotte Bjorck, who works at SIBI, why this is. She explains,
“Many people just don’t know where to start or how to get into schools, and we know that there are concerns around the commitment involved, like how much preparation is required.
“I think some people can have anxiety about what to expect from students in terms of behaviour, and there might be safeguarding concerns. We can also see that some people just don’t recognise how valuable their employment story can be, they think they need experience or something particular to say.”
SIBI makes it as easy as possible for individuals and employers to get involved and, for the majority of the sessions run in schools, all materials are provided with little preparation needed by volunteers. Employers can also develop and deliver their own careers activity, and the SIBI team will help them to do this.
Charlotte and the team also offer regular ‘What to expect in schools and colleges’ sessions so participants are informed and have the chance to ask questions. These sessions can also be tailored and delivered directly to a business if an employer would like their team to participate in the programme.
Opportunities are advertised in a monthly bulletin that is sent to volunteers, who can opt in to an activity as and when they have capacity and it appeals to them.
Through a partnership with Sheffield Business Together (SBT), a part of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, SIBI is also helping employers to work with SEN (Special Educational Needs) schools and in disadvantaged areas of the city.
With these measures in place, you can be one of those four encounters that makes a world of difference, with no pressure to commit over the long term. Charlotte explains,
“We want to reassure people that they can volunteer as little or as often as they are able, there is no obligation! We also try to help individuals recognise the value in sharing their employment story with young people which is, as the statistics show, significant.”
Demystifying the tech sector
SIBI is built on the premise that you can’t aspire towards something that you don’t know exists. They want to tackle misconceptions about the tech sector and the type of opportunities it presents. Charlotte explains:
“Digital is a growing sector and will be a significant employer when students leave school and enter the jobs market. So it’s important that we help demystify what a job in the digital sector actually involves, and that we challenge stereotypes.”
Andrew has encountered some of these misconceptions and is trying to show a fuller picture of the sector to help inspire and build a strong pipeline of talent. He says,
“From what I have seen, there’s a common perception amongst young people that tech jobs involve sitting in dark rooms staring at screens, and you have to be a “coder” to work in tech. Then there’s also those who think it’s all about the front-end stuff, like designing websites.”
CEO and Co-Founder of The Curve, Paul Ridgway supports this and comments: “We work with See it Be it to promote the other brilliant opportunities at a company like The Curve but also to promote the industry in general and all the different types of roles that exist. From BA’s (Business Analysts) to Project Management, or even across Sales & Marketing teams.”
Andrew has seen the difference it can make when young people start to understand what ‘tech’ really means and how much of their lives it affects. He comments,
“I love simplifying the complicated work that goes into making the cool technology we use for our wide range of customers. I refer to the digital educational games and programs like Arithmagicians, which we’ve recently created or the more established Time Table RockStars, because when you put it in their world, that’s when they get really excited.”
Preparing young people for our industry
As Charlotte points out, the digital industries will be a key employer when today’s young people leave school and college to enter the jobs market. Not only is it crucial that they are interested in pursuing tech related careers, the skills and knowledge they develop whilst in education must be relevant. Andrew explains,
“I believe that we, industry, have a responsibility to equip young people as best we can with the knowledge and skills to enter into the technology sector. Otherwise we risk training young people for jobs that simply don’t exist, because the IT curriculum isn’t designed for the innovative, fast-paced nature of our sector.”
He recognises the need for close collaboration between industry and education, adding:
“Teachers want to do more and really appreciate the input we give through See It, Be It – I believe it’s about teamwork, it’s not solely up to our teachers to do this.”
Time you got involved?
There are loads of different activities that SIBI runs in schools and colleges, all in need of more volunteers from the digital industries. These include mock interviews, CV /application writing workshops, ‘What’s my line?’, workplace visits and skills workshops.
SIBI also runs the annual enterprise competition for young people, The BiG Challenge, which encourages teams in years 7-9 to start a business with a £25 start-up loan. Mentoring and guidance from local businesses and entrepreneurs is really helpful to entrants as they negotiate the challenge of getting a business off the ground.
Take a look at this flyer for more details on SIBI, visit the website, or email the team on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography courtesy of Timm Cleasby / unLTD Business.