Designed to raise the aspirations of young people of all abilities, Inspira's Employer Mentoring Programme is part of a national campaign funded by the Careers & Enterprise Company to inspire and empower teenagers to achieve their potential.

Delivered in West and North Cumbria, the mentoring programme connects young people with volunteers from businesses and organisations who understand how valuable it is for young people to be inspired and to get a taste of the working world, as well as understanding the realities of being employed and the workplace.

Gillian Johnston from Morgan Sindall Infrastructure is a mentor at Mayfield School, West Cumbria, where she is also an enterprise adviser. For Gillian becoming a mentor with SEND young people was an easy decision.

“I took up the role as a mentor as I wanted to not only work with the pupils, but local employers across West Cumbria, to help ensure SEND school pupils receive the equal opportunities for employability. It might not be full time employment, but they are certainly employable, and I want to help get that message out.”

Part of Gillian’s role as a mentor is to organise work placements and work experience opportunities for the young people, she mentors. From an offer of a reception placement to a lab visit Gillian says the feedback from employers the been well received. Next on Gillian’s agenda is organising for her two young mentees to be ‘meet and greeters’ at a Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster meeting.

Every month, Gillian visits her mentees for a half an hour session each at Mayfield School. It enables the pupils to talk about future job aspirations and of course understanding what is realistic. For Gillian the relationship starts off with getting to know each other, which helps to build upon trust. Once trust is built upon, conversations turn to thoughts around future careers and associated work experience ideas.

“One mentee had a number of ideas which included, working as a Disney character, a foster carer and a DJ for kids parties.. Like all of us, we all have those dream jobs, but through the mentoring sessions allowing me to further build my understanding of their interests, a laboratory visit was secured.”

Before any placements begin, Gillian ensures that they have a conversation about what is acceptable in the workplace. Using post-it notes the exercise simply involves yes or no answers and a discussion around why.

Aiming for two or three placements each, Gillian’s goal is to do the best she can for them,

“If the best is just to get them some work experience then so be it but if we can secure each mentee a permanent job, then I feel the ultimate goal is met.”

For people who may be interested in becoming a mentor, Gillian believes the key attributes people need are patience and understanding, and she has nothing but praise for the programme and the impact it has on the mentees, as well as the mentors.

“I get a lot of pleasure when I go and I always come away feeling really up beat. They do a lot for my self-esteem as well."

“For the mentees, the impact is that somebody is coming in and giving up their time to help them progress into the work place.”