Bridging the gap between education and business closer together

Luke Richardson, volunteer Enterprise Adviser for Inspira, talks about his role with Whitehaven Academy.

When I was at school I wanted to be a chef; I enjoyed cooking and if I had to pick a lesson I really didn’t enjoy it was probably English. Yet fast forward a couple of years and I was working as a Communications Manager for an engineering company. I now work for Amec Foster Wheeler as a Social Impact Manager – a job I certainly didn’t know existed when I was at school.

Nationally the youth unemployment rate currently stands at about 560,000. Yet surprisingly there are over 750,000 job vacancies; around a quarter of these vacancies are skills-shortage related.

In recent years, the UK has focused on declining interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. In the world of engineering, there are concerns over the decline in Engineers given the huge investment that is and will be made in future infrastructure projects; projects like Hinkley Point C, High Speed 2 (HS2) and Moorside. Never mind existing infrastructure like Sellafield. In fact, the UK is estimated to face a shortfall of 81,000 people with engineering skills each year alone. To put that into perspective it means we need double the number of people studying Engineering in the UK today.

Outside of the world of engineering and construction, there are challenges across the spectrum. Thanks to technology, the world is constantly changing, there are jobs on the market that weren’t there 10 years ago, and new jobs coming up all the time. Rewind the clock 10 years and you would have asked what an app developer was or social media analyst. Yet now they are popular careers. In the business world we tend to expect young people to know about the world of work, understand the skills they need and expect them to somehow enter the office understanding all the acronyms we use. It sometimes feels like the world of education and skills and that of the world of work are too far apart.

We need to bridge the gap between the world of education and employment. I joined the Enterprise Advisor Network (EAN) in Cumbria for that very reason. The EAN is the brainchild of the Careers and Enterprise Company– with networks established across the UK. The Enterprise Advisor Network in Cumbria is delivered by Inspira on behalf of, and in partnership with, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the Careers and Enterprise Company.

For Graham Haywood, the Director of Cumbria LEP, the EAN is a key activity for supporting the achievement of the LEP Skills Investment Plan aims, in particular strengthening the bridge between the world of business and that of the education and skills sector. The ambition is to ensure that all young people get access to a coherent and complementary careers advice and enterprise education offer in all areas of the county.

To strengthen the bridge between the world of business and that of the education and skills sector, the EAN partners volunteers from the business community with schools and colleges. The volunteers are known as Enterprise Advisers and have strategic responsibilities or experience within their own organisation. As an Enterprise Advisor I’m supported by an Enterprise Coordinator from Inspira, and together we help the school to identify where they may benefit from or want employer engagement. I then help create access to a wider network of employers by drawing on my business links and those of other Enterprise Advisors to help support the delivery of the plan.

At Whitehaven Academy, we have created a development plan with some very ambitious targets, such as:

  • Establishing a dedicated careers space for young people,
  • Supporting all year 9’s, 10’s and 11’s through the Young Professional Programme,
  • Relating the curriculum to career pathways and local labour market opportunities so students can understand the link between what they are learning and how they might use that in the world of work,
  • Supporting all our year 10’s in completing a work experience placement.

If anyone would like to find out more about our plans or would like to get involved, please contact or who are the Cumbrian Enterprise Adviser Coordinators.

To find out more about the Enterprise Advisor Network visit: