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Supporting the futures of young people with SEND

17 March 2021

We hear from Richard Osborne, an Enterprise Adviser working to support young people with SEND. Alongside owning his own business, Richard offers advice and support to Northgate School & Arts College in Northampton. 

My career journey and starting my own business

It sometimes seems surreal when I remember that I’ve run my own business for more than 25 years, having started as a web design company back when websites were made of pixie dust and magic that no-one understood. I started my own business because I didn’t have the confidence to apply for a job and couldn’t face an interview, it wasn’t a good time for me personally in my life. Starting my own business felt like the only option for me, and now quarter of a century later I cannot imagine anything else. I do wonder whether my life would be different now if I’d had a richer employer engagement and careers advice when I was at school.

My work experience was data entry in Whitbreads, because I was “good with computers” and my careers advice was the Head of 5th Year (as it was back then) talking to me about joining the armed forces, he was a military man himself. My first paid job was maintaining stock (shelf stacking) in a Cash & Carry opposite where I lived, before joining YTS (Youth Training Scheme) in the 1990’s which existed back then in some part to catch young people like me.

Becoming an Enterprise Adviser

I was originally asked to be an Enterprise Adviser (EA) during the original pilot program which means I’ve been an Enterprise Adviser for quite a few years now, aligned to Northgate School & Arts College in Northampton which is a generic special school for pupils who have an EHC plan for special educational needs. When I was first approached by the Local Enterprise Partnership to work with a special school, I was anxious and almost declined. I needn’t have been though because it has been and continues to be a wholesome rewarding experience. The school was fantastic at helping me understand what I needed to know about how education works whilst welcoming my business acumen and experience to their curriculum - we wanted to learn from each other and that forms the basis for a great ongoing relationship.

Backing from SLT and Governors

It’s important that the SLT (Senior Leadership Team) are on board for a project to have the best chance of success, and especially so if the Governors are too. I’ve been fortunate that the SLT have always been engaged with the Enterprise Adviser program from the start, and the Governors invited representatives from The Careers & Enterprise Company and the Local Enterprise Partnership to their Governor meetings to learn more about the program. This engagement is vital and having a dedicated Careers Leader at the school has really helped drive employability skills and employer engagement into the curriculum. These are the people you will generally work with at the school and not the students themselves because your role as an EA is more a strategic and advisory role, a bit like a Non-Exec Director within a business. Although having said that, it is of course welcomed if you have the capacity to speak to students about your career.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things that I first had to come to terms with was an adjustment period where I came to understand education moves at a different pace than business - a whole year curriculum is planned and put in place the year prior. This means the work you do now may not come into effect until the following academic year, and that takes some getting used to. Especially if, like me, you are used to making a decision in your own business and implementing it right away. This is not through any lack of commitment from the education staff - it’s just one of those things in the way the education system works. One which I do hope one day will change, but for now it is the framework we have.

Sense of achievement

I’m proud to be an EA. Not only has it introduced me to the challenges faced by education, but it has really opened my eyes to the challenges facing young people with SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities) in experiencing work opportunities and finding employment. It’s enabled me to use my own life experiences to influence education and using my connections in the business community, I’ve been able to bring the school and so many businesses together. The children’s education, aspirations and career opportunities are so much richer now. I’ve enjoyed it and feel that I’ve been able to make such a difference that I’ve since joined the school’s Governors and am now the schools Careers Link Governor too.

If you are interested in becoming an Enterprise Adviser like Richard, visit our EA recruitment website to find out more and to register your interest. 

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