The Futures Project: Helping students plan for next steps

The Futures Project: Helping students plan for next steps
Date16th Jan 2023AuthorChris Heath-RobinsonCategoriesStudent Life

One Sixth Form College in Ipswich has developed the “Futures” project for students, designed to allow meaningful interactions between our students and local business contacts and universities through a series of events which include business networking breakfasts and employer-led conferences. As a direct result of this project, students have built relationships with external organisations and many have secured employment or university places.


In 2021 The Skills Network released the ‘Skills Gap’ trend report, which showed the skills most required by employers, and skills which employers felt school leavers lacked. Among these skills were communication, self-management, and industry knowledge. Gatsby benchmarks state as an aspiration for excellent careers advice that: “the curriculum and the providers’ wider work support learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence…” and “at each stage of education, the provider prepares learners for future success in their next steps”.

Although we have been offering lots of interactions with businesses and universities to our students through online talks, lunchtime sessions, and emailed information, we found that engagement was low and attended by the same students each time. Talks are not often seen as relevant for most of students, as they are not interested in the particular industry an employer represents. 


The Futures project focusses on larger, more meaningful events throughout the year, rather than lots of smaller events, designed to allow interaction between our students and local business contacts and universities.

Business Breakfasts

Business and university representatives, both local and national, are invited into the college to meet with our students informally over breakfast (pictured above). With a different theme for each breakfast, students are encouraged to lead conversations with the guests regarding skills or attributes that they look for when recruiting. Businesses use these events as an informal opportunity to get to know students, and often students are invited to apply for any vacancies these businesses might have. 


We hold two main conferences throughout the year; the first in January is where businesses hold talks on subject-related content directly to students. For example, Amazon Web Services might talk to our Business students about logistics and distribution. Students are offered 30 different talks to choose from, and are encouraged to choose those which most closely relate to an industry they are interested in. This gives students an opportunity to see how what they are learning is delivered in the real world and builds their understanding of an industry they are interested in. 

The second conference of the year focusses on the employability and leadership skills of our students. They can choose between a selection of talks from universities and employers; some are on the specific skills that employers and universities often feel are lacking among applicants, while others provide students with knowledge of particular industries. Previous talks have included “branding yourself” and how to prepare for a career in accounting. In the afternoon, students attend talks from guest speakers looking at the paths that have helped to make their own careers successful; last year’s guest speakers were from Little City, a successful mobile children’s entertainment company, and the Mason Trust, a charitable foundation which supports local young people. 

Business Wardrobe

With the increased exposure of students to businesses and events, we noticed that an increasing number of students did not have suitable attire we would expect when at an event, interview, or first day at work. To give all students from all backgrounds the best possible opportunity, we introduced the Business Wardrobe. Students can book to come to the wardrobe and borrow the clothing that is required for the event they are attending; this might be a full suit, a pair of shoes, or a tie. This also provides an opportunity for the student to reflect and ask questions about what the expectations are of them when attending these events. Due to the huge generosity of the businesses we work with and the staff at One, we now have a well-stocked wardrobe that any student can use. 


In the two years we have been running and developing the Futures programme we have increased the number and diversity of businesses we have been working with. At our most recent breakfast we held in October 2022 there were 38 representatives from different industries in attendance, in addition to 12 from universities. We have ensured we work with businesses in a broad range of industries which include manufacturing, engineering, marketing, and finance to name but a few. Several students have secured employment or apprenticeship opportunities as a direct result of the Futures project. In our recent OFSTED report inspectors commented: “Students are prepared exceptionally well for employment. Managers and teachers work closely with employers so that students develop the relevant skills for future employment.”

My top tips for successful employer engagement:

  • Putting on an “event” creates a buzz, meaning greater take-up from students - or you might consider a collapsed timetable day.
  • Consider what’s in it for the businesses involved; corporate social responsibility and recruitment objectives seem to draw businesses in.
  • Try thinking outside the box when considering the businesses you want involved. How about an engineering company to talk about finance?
  • Contact your local LEP and School Enterprise Advisor for contacts and help. They may also be able to put you in touch with funding agencies. 
  • Offering food always helps!

Chris is head of business at Suffolk One Sixth Form College.

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