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INTERVIEW


A foot in both camps


The conversation surrounding skills and employment is becoming an increasingly loud one. Business Network Editor Nathan Fearn spoke with Sandra Cowley, Commercial Director at Futures Advice Skills and Employment, about how her background in both education and business is helping keep Futures at the heart of the debate.


When it comes to talking about the link between education and business and the skills necessary to be both employable and successful, few are better qualified to speak about the subject than Sandra Cowley. Her career path has been slightly unconventional but has


prepared her perfectly for her role as Commercial Director of Futures Advice Skills and Employment, a leading Ofsted Outstanding social enterprise operating across the East Midlands and the Central and Eastern parts of England. Unsurprisingly, her experiences to date have, she believes,


sharpened her perspective on an area – skills and employability – that continues to be a key driving force in the nation’s desire to compete internationally and be as productive and economically-secure as possible. “I went to school and although I was quite bright, I was


fairly disengaged,” explains Sandra. “I left at 16 and didn’t want to work for my mum and dad


– who were in the manufacturing and textiles sector - but I did get a job in that industry; that’s what I knew and felt comfortable with. “Unfortunately that was in the 1980s and there was a lot of


unemployment. I found myself being made redundant and decided to try a few things on my own in terms of setting up a business. It didn’t work but what I learned was very valuable and useful. “I then worked in a business-to-business environment for


the next 11 years before taking a break to have a family.” It was at this point that a career within the skills and


employability arena began, quite by chance, to become increasingly of interest to Sandra. “I was working in commercial sales for a large


manufacturing organisation and it was there that I was asked to manage the company’s work experience programme and host open days for young people. These students were undertaking GCSEs in textiles and the schools would come to us to see how their studies related to industry in practice, rather than just learning about it in the classroom. “I really enjoyed that element of my role and was delighted when asked to project manage the programme


from an education rather than business perspective for Vision West Nottinghamshire College, where my role centred round inspiring young people to think about careers in a different way while creating a stronger link between the school curriculum and industry.”


‘We’re an £18m-turnover business that is working not just with young people but also with 350 schools and over 500 businesses across the East Midlands alone’


Despite being in an environment where she could excel,


Sandra still had one eye on the future and this desire to continually improve would mean that, ironically, she would very soon be practicing what she preached with a personal return - in conjunction with her work at the college – to formal education. “I actually did my degree and postgrad in my 40s because


I realised that if I wanted to progress and move into more senior roles I needed that education to be able to demonstrate my skills in a different way. “I think that experience gave me two things. It gave me


the qualification in Business Management and Leadership but it also gave me a real renewed confidence in myself. Learning broadens your perspective and your confidence.” As the world of work shifts from more traditional roles to


those created by the so-called fourth industrial revolution associated with digital technology and artificial intelligence, the need for education and business to work collaboratively to ensure future and current workers are adequately prepared is becoming ever-more obvious and pertinent. It’s a space that Nottingham-headquartered Futures fits


perfectly in to. A leading employment and skills social enterprise, Futures’ activity involves raising the aspirations and skills of would-be and current employees – whether young or in adulthood – creating a better performing, robust and more sustainable business environment and culture in the process. “I wanted something in life that wasn’t just about making


money for shareholders, I wanted to work for an organisation that shared my values, had a great people-focused culture and a real sense of purpose and that was a driver in coming here,” says Sandra. “Futures is a well-established company of over 20 years


and has its heritage and history in impartial advice and career guidance but it does so much more now; having recently developed a new offer specifically for business - Futures for Business – which offers a range of services in learning, development and recruitment. “We’re an £18m-turnover business that is working not just


with young people but also with 350 schools and over 500 businesses across the East Midlands alone. Last year we also supported over 68,000 adults through our National Careers Service contract, helping them overcome a myriad of different barriers to employment and career development options for those already in work. “It’s my remit to evaluate our operating model, look at


how we evolve the work we do in supporting employers develop the skills of their people, getting people back into work, while also inspiring young people in schools and helping academic institutions link curriculum to business and identify the skills required, while being advocates of social mobility.”


business network June 2018 35


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