How businesses can engage with schools

Blog by Lorraine Fairbanks, Partnerships Manager for Engine Shed 

On 25 January Engine Shed and the University of Bristol delivered a workshop to SMEs and businesses on developing talent pipeline for schools.  I thank all the speakers at the event whose advice I have published in this blog.  

You can watch the video of the event here.

What struck me the most from all their experiences in working with schools is how the children respond to the world of work:  they realise it can be fun, they are open to taking on everything available to them, and they are very flexible and resilient.  The ideal workforce for the future! 

Jane Yorke, Workforce for the Future programme co-ordinator for the West of England Combined Authority, talked about what schoolchildren are interested in hearing about if you offer a talk to a school. By talking about what you do and your own personal journey, you can make a job more tangible, you can grow mindsets, plant the seeds of the possible, raise aspirations and give them an ‘I could’ moment. 

 Good talk themes:

  • Your journey, story or expertise 
  • Your business – what it does and why, who works there 
  • Your sector – what it does, how it’s developing, what it needs 
  • Skills – highlight the ones you use or ones you are looking for 
  • Projects you are working on or what it takes to work on a project 
  • Technology you are using or developing and what it’s used for 
  • Real business problems or challenges 

Fiona Doughton, Careers Hub Lead for the West of England Careers Hub, explained what the Careers Hub is for. They work with 95 state schools and colleges in Bristol, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire including SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and alternative learning provision. 

All schools now have a named Careers Leader and a quality careers system to help young people to choose career opportunities that are right for them. The careers system is linked to Gatsby benchmarks, which businesses can support. The benchmarks are: 

  • Schools need to be learning from local labour market information which is provided to them through the Careers Hub (Gatsby benchmark 2) 
  • Curriculum learning needs to be linked to careers (Gatsby benchmark 4) 
  • Schools need to create encounters for young people to meet with employers and employees (Gatsby benchmark 5).  These include: 
    • Talks 
    • Workshops to demo tech or an activity, e.g., co-create a new website for a company 
    • Experiences of workplaces, including tours, a 3-day virtual work experience or a traditional 5-day placement. The placement would need to entail a project and your work might take place across several weeks or months  

We can challenge schoolchildren’s’ view of the workplace to make every job a job for someone like them. Data shows that if young people have four experiences of the workplace then 98% of them will go on to positive destinations and those that have these experiences are likely to have higher salaries in the future, so businesses have a huge role to play in supporting future progression. If every business can do one thing then our young people will have what they need and businesses will have the workforce they need. 

Jane outlined the free support of the Workforce for the Future project for engaging with schools. They have a list of activities that schools need support for, they can broker introductions and support you to develop your activities.  

Celeste Waller-Carr, Faculty Engagement Officer (Engineering) at the University of Bristol, introduced their Widening Participation scheme, which looks to diversify the student population and improve the representation of underrepresented groups in accessing the university.  

Celeste highlighted that there are a lot of factors which impact a pupil and their ability to engage and learn, including family context, school resources (or lack of) and impacts of mental and physical health. To give you some context in Bristol, there is a large percentage of the council wards in the city who are in POLAR Quintile 1 which is classed as an area of multiple deprivation. You can find out more about this on the Office for Students website. It’s so important that we target these groups and you can make a big impact here to support the great work that’s been doing by our universities in this regard. 

Her practical advice was to listen to the pupils, adapt, be prepared for the unexpected, have an alternative IT plan, link topics to the real world, be aware of safeguarding and always ensure a teacher is present when you are delivering activity.  Most importantly, go with the flow and have fun!    

Laura Price, Employer Brand Lead at BT Security, spoke about the work they have been involved in from a schools and employability perspective. Examples including working with Barefoot Computing to help primary aged learners, and a skills for tomorrow free programme to support you with getting digital skills. They work with external partners to support their work including CyberFirst, Unlock Cyber events and the National Autistic Society. They work around national campaigns such as National Apprenticeship Week and British Science Week 

Activities they deliver to schools include games, digital escape rooms, gliphs and QR codes to engage young people in the use of technology and bring a bit of fun to it which helps with engagement.  

Lilly Manzoni, Head of R&D from agritech startup LettUs Grow, spoke about their work with Babbasa who help young people from underrepresented communities to pursue their ambitions through skills training, professional mentoring, events and recruitment. LettUs Grow offer placements and have three equal opportunity ambassadors who teach 20 students each new skills such as electronic engineering. They have also supported Engine Shed’s work with the Future Brunels and the annual Ada Lovelace Day talk 

LettUs Grow also work with university placements and internships offering meaningful project work rather than admin tasks. They are committed to showing interns and young people that work can demonstrate healthy work habits and environments. 

Breakout themes from the workshop 

What activities can I run with schools? 

  • Educating teachers on work placements for young people 
  • Mentoring schemes 
  • Talks, and storytelling for younger children 


  • You can expect to be accompanied by a member of school staff or an education charity who can manage this aspect for you 
  • Sometimes it’s not safe to visit workshop environments but an alternative could be to make a demo model of the system that you can take out and about and that people can touch 

 How to communicate to different age groups? 

  • Don’t try and use ‘down with the kids’ language 
  • Find stories around things they might be interested 
  • Check out this video from workshop attendee Zoe Sharpe about engaging young people in the construction industry for some examples 

 How to evaluate activity 

  • Talk to staff to measure the improvement of young adults/ children  
  • Measure their numeracy and literacy skills of the participant students before and after the engagement through simple questionnaires 
  • Collect parent feedback and testimonies if they are engaged in an activity 
  • Publish case studies on the students’ journey, before and after the engagement  
  • Intuitively you can tell from young people’s body language if they are engaging and growing in confidence 

 Who to approach in schools? 

  • Send to generic office email and this will get passed on to correct contact 
  • Career teacher 
  • WECA’s Workforce for the Future programme can advise here 

 What’s the benefit to your business? 

  • Grow your company and diversify your workforce 
  • Train young people (T-levels, BTECs, internships). Making use of organisations such as Babbasa and MyGWork with support for recruitment 
  • Inspire young people 
  • Address mental health needs 
  • Address societal questions within curriculum such as local & healthy food, climate change, societal inequalities, commercial space travel, mental wellbeing 
  • Engage with start-ups 
  • Give back 

 Workshop resources 

Active Outreach Activity Ideas for School Groups_University of Bristol

Top Tips for planning an outreach session_University of Bristol

School Engagement Workforce for the Future Flyer WECA

Resources for businesses engaging with schools by Engine Shed

BT Schools outreach


Engine Shed is committed to our Diverse Workforce for the Future programme. We have been working with education charities since 2014 that run events for primary and secondary school pupils, as well as working with TeachFirst on Teacher Work Experience programme.  Hundreds of young people have come through Engine Shed’s doors, meeting some of the most innovative entrepreneurs at our tech incubator partner, SETsquared Bristol, and experiencing our vibrant coworking and events workspace. Please contact us to discuss how we can support you.  We can bring networks back together with in person events in our events spaces