Posted: 13 March 2014
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Collaborating on careers

National Grid is at the centre of an exciting pilot scheme that offers a new way of delivering careers advice in schools. The aim is to bridge the gap between education and the workplace and inspire young people to consider a career in engineering. Julian Buttery, Careers Lab, Project Manager, explains why Careers Lab is different from other initiatives, and how it could set a new pace and direction for how schools and business work together.

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Collaborating on careers

Collaborating on careers

Around 2,000 pupils across the Midlands are now participating in the Careers Lab pilot, which gives schools the framework they need to engage local and national businesses and collaborate with them on careers advice.

“We’ve achieved a lot in a short amount of time and this has been down to the pace, passion and energy of everyone involved in the pilot.”

Julian Buttery, Careers Lab, Project Manager


2,000 – the approximate number of 11 to 16 year olds taking part in the Careers Lab pilot.

Source: National Grid

In May 2013, at an event organised by The Spectator, National Grid’s Chief Executive Steve Holliday set out a four-point plan to help close the UK’s ever-growing skills gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.

One of his major points was that quality careers advice is crucial if the UK is going to produce enough engineers to meet future economic demand. Education and business need to work more closely together, he argued, and give our young people the information they need to make good career choices.

This was something I’d already experienced first-hand. Last year I was seconded to Business in the Community (BITC) as a Business Connector, and one of areas I covered was working with schools and academies in Birmingham to improve links between employers and educators.

One of my main observations was that careers advice in schools is a mixed bag to say the least. Many pupils were not getting the right exposure and insight to the world of work, or sound and timely careers advice. This has resulted in a clear gap between the perception of work and the reality. If you consider that we need 87,000 people annually to meet demand for skills in the UK’s engineering sector over the next decade – while only 51,000 are currently joining the profession each year – then the case for effective careers advice is a compelling one.


That’s why I’ve been very excited to be the project manager of a new initiative that sprang from Steve’s four-point plan. Careers Lab is a programme aimed at 11 to 16 year olds that gives schools the framework they need to engage local and national businesses and collaborate with them on careers advice.

Some 2,000 pupils from schools across the Midlands are now participating in a pilot scheme, the first example of which took place at Hodge Hill Sports and Enterprise College in Birmingham. More events are now being rolled out to schools in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.

To a large extent, Careers Lab has been focused on STEM skills and geared towards National Grid’s needs as an engineering company and that of other fellow participants like HS2, Costain, Wates and IT consultancy CapGemini. Yet its scope has broadened beyond our sector too, and other big firms like food and hospitality giant Whitbread are lending it a different perspective on the world of work.

Valuable data

So why is Careers Lab different from the plethora of other careers initiatives in the UK? Well fundamentally, Careers Lab is all about schools and cross sector business working side-by-side and not at a distance. National Grid employees – and those from other companies – are leading lessons alongside teachers and introducing young people to a huge resource of first-hand experience.

This could potentially offer a huge benefit compared to other schemes, which too often rely on online lessons to reach young people. Ours is a different kind of collaboration: one based on interactive solutions where face-to-face, digital, self-managed and practical learning techniques all come together.

The scheme was developed at a terrific pace. In September 2013, we set ourselves an ambitious timetable to have our pilot finished by March. We’re on track to do this and are already beginning to collate valuable data that will help us judge how effective this new method has been.

The pilot is being fully measured and assessed and we will be sharing the findings with interested parties in the summer. Encouragingly, early feedback shows the response from our target audience has been positive. The pilots have concentrated on Year 9 pupils, but many Year 8 and Year 10 pupils have shown an interest too and asked why they can’t get involved!

Doing, not just talking

The overall aim of Careers Lab is to change the way the UK delivers careers advice to future generations. This is something we can’t do on our own: we’ll need help and the involvement of other businesses and institutions on a national level to make a real difference. But it is an exciting way of tackling the skills gap, and the lessons we learn from this experience will provide hugely valuable insights into what is one of the defining issues for our industry.

Collaboration and enthusiasm are the twin engines that will determine whether we succeed or fail. Already we’re starting to see the scheme improve pupils and teachers’ understanding of what the engineering industry has to offer, as well as help companies like National Grid step up to the challenge of inspiring future generations.

We all have a responsibility to do this. This is more than just enhancing our corporate reputation – it’s about doing and not just talking. We’ve achieved a lot in a short amount of time and this has been down to the pace, passion and energy of everyone involved in the pilot.

This is what will make Careers Lab a success in the long-run, and is ultimately the best way we’ll inspire the engineers of the future to pursue careers in our profession.

Read more:

Steve Holliday, National Grid’s Chief Executive, on the UK skills gap.

The Careers Lab is a partnership between schools and business to bring the world of work alive to young people.

plotr is a new careers platform, that gives young people the help they need to build the careers they want.

Business in the Community.

The National Schools Partnership.

The Big Bang Fair.

Gas innovation in full flow