Alumni urged to inspire 12,000 state students to career confidence

Workshops prove to current generation ‘people like them’ can succeed in fulfilling jobs.

Former state school students across the South West are being urged to volunteer in an ambitious programme to inspire current students to career confidence and academic success.

The Alumni Communities project will link former students in a wide range of professions and vocations with current students in 40 state secondary schools across Cornwall, Devon and part of Somerset. The alumni will support teachers to encourage more ambitious thinking about careers by helping today’s students make the link between their education and future jobs and prove that ‘people like them’ can succeed in their chosen career.

The South West and Cornwall in particular has one of the lowest levels of employer engagement in schools across Britain.

Future First, the education charity delivering the project, is  now calling on alumni from Devon, Somerset and Cornwall state schools to register to support their former secondaries as role models, inspiring speakers, mentors and work experience providers  by clicking the “Former students” link on the website

Over the next academic year, the scheme will benefit 12,000 state students. The first workshops in the project have already taken place at Torquay Academy in Cricketfield Road where former students worked with sixth formers making university choices and at Bodmin College in Lostwithiel Road where alumni offered support to Year 10 students considering further education.

The Torquay Academy alumni included Claire Marriott, studying paediatrics at Birmingham University, Chloe Watling, who has just completed an art foundation course and Nottingham University research fellow and microbiologist Emma Stevenson.

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 Bodmin College alumni with current students.

Alumna Emma Stevenson said, “I wish there were more events like this when I was 17, I had no one to tell me things like, it’s really important to have experience, or to say, ‘go and check out this resource’”.

Gareth Harries, of Torquay Academy said, “Our students will go into a competitive jobs market and we need to prepare them for their working life beyond school in the best way we can. Utilising the breadth of talents and skills of our alumni will be valuable in helping us to broaden students’ jobs horizons and develop the crucial skills they need to succeed in a fulfilling career.”

The Bodmin College alumni included writer Jodie Matthews, Cassie Brewer, studying medicine at the University of Exeter, Craig Rowe, a housing development manager, Bam Russell, an engineer, media consultant Natalie Hammond and drama student Daniel Annear.

Former student Bam Russell said she hoped to offer reassurance to students still deciding whether or not to go to university. “As a young person, big life decisions can be very daunting, especially when you don't know how these decisions can affect the rest of your life.”

Jayne Smith, Aspirations Coordinator at Bodmin College, said student feedback from the session was excellent. “It was clearly evident that the students listened intently to our alumni who were incredibly inspirational with some great advice to our young people.” 

The £345,000 project will be delivered by Future First with SSAT, the schools membership organisation. It’s funded by the Careers and Enterprise Company set up by the government in 2015 to transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them about the opportunities offered by the world of work.

Teachers in participating schools have already begun being trained by Future First on how to use the untapped wealth of talents of alumni and in embedding a long term culture of alumni and employer engagement in the school. The initiative builds on Future First’s proven work in more than 400 state secondaries nationwide enabling schools to harness the experience of alumni.

Future First research shows alumni are vital in motivating students to succeed with 75 per cent of students attending a Future First led alumni session say they are inspired to work

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(from left to right) Alumni Claire Marriott and Chloe Watling with Torquay Academy students.

harder in school now.

Christine Gilbert, Executive Chair of Future First and a former Ofsted Chief Inspector, said there was a huge need to support state educated students to make the difficult transition from school to work and to drive more ambitious thinking about their expectations of work in the modern world.

“In a region where employer engagement in schools is among the lowest in the country, it is particularly important to help students link their studies with their future and broaden their horizons, Evidence shows that if students see people ‘like them’ have succeeded, they are more likely to believe they can too. They work harder and have higher expectations of success. We want more schools to see the benefits of using their alumni as a powerful resource.”

Claudia Harris, CEO of the Careers And Enterprise Company, said engaging with relatable role models was powerful in raising aspiration and improving employment outcomes for young people.

“Evidence shows that only in 40% of schools do young people have an encounter with an employer once a year, despite the fact that those who have more encounters while at school are significantly less likely to be NEET and earn, on average, 18% more than peers who have not. We are pleased to be supporting this work in a careers and enterprise ‘cold spot’ where such networks are most needed.”