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A joined up approach to engaging young people through engineering and motor racing

In this podcast episode in the Demystifying Apprenticeships series, Rubitek’s founder and CEO, Kerry Linley talks to guest Caroline Wood who describes herself as an 'educational anarchist'. Caroline explains why she values the British education system, the challenges of navigating competing agendas, and the diverse range of options available to young people. Together they discuss the importance of engaging with children from primary schools, 'knowing yourself' when it comes to choosing a learning path, and why employers need to open their doors to young people.

Caroline who is based in Oxfordshire is passionate about people development and encouraging the next generation of engineers.

Transcript

Kerry Linley: Welcome to Rubitek Talks, brought to you by Rubitek Solutions with me, Kerry Linley. This podcast blows the doors open on apprenticeships. It aims to bust myths like, "apprenticeships are just for young people", or "you can't go to university if you do an apprenticeship" as I interview a range of guests who tell their own apprenticeship stories.

In today’s podcast, we will be exploring how an engineering employer is taking a really joined up approach to recruitment, and the benefits of doing so. I am talking to Dr. Caroline Wood who is the Skills Development Manager at GKN Automotive.

Kerry Linley: Caroline, welcome to the podcast and thanks very much for agreeing to be our guest.

Caroline Wood: Thanks for having me.

Kerry Linley: You’re very welcome. First of all, I know you’ve just returned from holiday, did you have a restful break?

Caroline Wood: Yes, it was wonderful! I went to the Isle of Sky so it couldn’t be any further away from where I normally live.

Kerry Linley: Beautiful, beautiful… I am very jealous! It sounds fabulous and well deserved! Caroline, you’ve had a very interesting career so far, I’ve just been taking a look at your LinkedIn profile to remind myself. Can you start by telling me a bit about how your career has developed and led you to your current role at GKN Automotive? I am really interested to hear what a typical week in the life of Caroline looks like.

Caroline Wood: I am not very typical and certainly I did not go for the linear career. I think it is partly when you do the psychometric test, I’m the ‘Learner’, and so, if something interests me, I tend to kind of follow that path. So, I am originally French, I came to the UK to do a master’s (degree) a long time ago, nearly thirty years ago, and that sort of took me, I did a PhD and decided I didn’t want to go into Academia, but to do something more practical and started working in rural development and then economic developments. I worked with sort of local government and third sector for about fifteen years working in partnership and one of the themes is nurturing, it was very much about empowering local communities to address some of the issues that they might have.

And so, I wanted to explore something different and a friend gave me the opportunity to go and work for her and it was more in a marketing environment, which seemed very unrelated, but I’d done quite a lot of marketing for towns, for market towns. And so, started doing things around tourism as well, because tourism is a big part of economic development, so the beginning of social media, that kind of thing, so I went into that and found myself working as a marketer for an HR organisation, because I was partly doing their marketing, but I was also training in social media. And I realised that I’d been wanting to be a teacher, but never done it, because I’m not very good at, you know... I like to be able to explore and if somebody has an interest, I want to be able to nurture that interest not be told that, you know, the curriculum says ’you have to do this’. So, I’d sort of resisted and then discovered learning and development and it was like ‘why didn’t I hear about this before?’ because you have so much more freedom when you’re working with young adults and adults. And so, yes, I started sort of doing some training and then the place for skills development manager came up at GKN, I applied and here we go! Three years later I am in my dream job!

Kerry Linley: That is fabulous, isn’t it? And it just goes to show, that one of the comments that my son in particular makes is, he is really concerned that if he goes down a particular career path, that’s him for the next twenty / thirty years and the career path that you've had, that you've just described, just evidences that that’s not the case, you don’t have to be pigeon holed if that’s the right word for it.

Caroline Wood: No, but it’s a lot harder, because we are still, I think, things are still organised in a way that a) you are made to believe that you have to have a linear career, but also b) the recruitment process is still very much looking at experience and therefore if you haven’t done the job before - you’re a lot less employable, so you’re having to fight a lot harder.

There’s a lot of things changing, there’s some really interesting work going on, you know, on the basis that actually we don’t know the jobs that are going to be available in five / ten years’ time and is much more about... someone on a podcast, somebody used the word ‘stackable skills’ and it’s much more about how you combine your skills to solve a problem that is new, than actually, have you solved that problem before? Because we’re going to have to problem solve constantly, and I guess certainly one piece of advice I would give for myself, but certainly I give to students that work with us is about self-awareness - just be really aware of your strengths - and how those strengths are applicable in lots of different situations, and when you go for employment - articulate that and not be a, you know, not feel constrained about ‘I haven’t done this before’. It’s kind of ‘what have I done that is quite similar, what are the skills that I’ve used?’ and therefore, these skills will be the ones that I use for solving that particular problem.

Kerry Linley: And the point you make, because experience can be learned in any job that you go into, but I would agree with you, certainly at Rubitek we recruit for attitude and mindset as opposed to experience and ‘what have you done before that we can benefit from?’.

Your organisation, so GKN Automotive, you’ve been there for, did you say just over three years?

Caroline Wood: Yes.

Kerry Linley: And it has what I would describe as a very joined up approach to engaging with all sorts of in particular young people through a really broad range of programs, I know you run competitions and school activities and apprenticeships and graduate programmes and your ‘year in industry’ placements as well. Is this something that you’ve introduced or has it always been GKN’s approach? And what have been the benefits to the business?

Caroline Wood: I think GKN, as it was before, was still a lot of, we’re a very diverse company, it’s about fifty sites in twenty-one different countries and when you sort of do surveys across the sites everybody seemed to agree that there’s a very nurturing culture and people are very generous with their knowledge, with their time to help you sort of develop in different ways.

I don’t think it was necessarily formalised and the skills founders helped us do this and it’s still work in progress, but it’s given us the capability to experiment. And when I first…, GKN has always also had a very long engagement with Formula Student - so Formula Student for people that don’t know is a university led competition. The main organiser is the IMechE, so the Institution for Mechanical Engineers, and it’s an opportunity for budding engineers to have as near as, sort of, business experience, as possible, so, by building a car. But it's not just sort of designing and putting the bits together, there’s also all the business planning around it and the marketing, and so, it’s really kind of looking at it holistically. It means that there is a really good opportunity for students to collaborate, so, obviously you require engineering students, but the successful team - they have people that are studying journalism, marketing, business, HR all coming in to support, to make the team functional, project planning, dealing with sponsors, all these bits - you really need a diversity of skills to make a very successful team.

So that’s always been there and what we’ve sort of done is over the last three years added bits, so that, what we’ve recognised is that there’s something like 20,000 deficit in engineers every year, year on year. There’s a bit of a demographic crisis, because we’ve got a lot of engineers are going to retire between now, you know in the next five years and we can’t replace them fast enough. The nature of the engineering is changing very rapidly as well, and yet, we don’t have enough people interested in STEM but if you’re sort of waiting to engage them, you know, at the point where they’re applying for universities you’ve got a whole raft of people that are already switched off. If you actually tried to engage with them when they’re doing their GCSE choices - actually you’ve already lost a lot of people and particularly you’ve lost women and you’ve lost people from diverse ethnic background, because they don’t see it as STEM.

What we’ve been trying to do, I mean, there’s some really good studies around the fact that you’re much more likely, or the people that tend to go into engineering, are people that have been exposed to engineering through their parents, through their extended families, through their experience at school. If you haven’t got that direct connection - you’re very, very unlikely to do it. So, stats - 16% of women are graduate engineers, we’ve got this disconnect. So, what we need to do really is working very early on to enthuse people so that’s why we sort of went from Formula Student to doing some secondary school intervention to now working with primary school. And one of the things that we’ve been using is motor sport, because motorsport is exciting and there’s some really good providers out there and because, obviously, we are automotive... I mean it’s sort of a double edged sword - you don’t want people to think you have to be a petrol head to be involved in automotive, because again, this is a very changing industry, there’s lots of different skills that are required, but when you’re little the idea of racing around a track still remains quite exciting, and so, we’ve been working with Green Power to, sort of, supporting the purchase of Green Power Kit and enabling primary school to take part in the Green Power competition. Because actually, the way it’s structured, again, is not just about the racing it’s about building the car, but it’s also about design, it’s about teamwork, it’s about if you want to race you need money therefore, how are you going to raise that money, how are you going to budget, where do you find the equipment that you need, regulation, health and safety - all these things. So, they’re very, again, you don’t just need the engineers - you need the creative people that are going to do your logo and you can be much more inclusive, but actually make people realise that it can be exciting. So, that’s how we’ve sort of built it and by this year it was really exciting at Formula Student, we had our little primary school and our little secondary school exhibiting their cars that they’d built, but also talking to our sponsored team at Formula Student so they could see what they could aspire to, and where it could lead, and I think that’s quite inspirational.

So, it’s kind of trying to bring it together so we have a much bigger impact, because we are small team, there is fifty on site, we can’t tackle every single primary school, we can’t tackle every single secondary school, so, we’re trying to work a bit smarter, so that we’re creating virtuous circles, we’re also trying to work with organisations, like Primary Engineer or Women in Engineering Society, so that we can have a greater reach and inspire more people on the way.

Kerry Linley: So, I understand the challenges posed by the lack of diversity in engineering and just, just to touch on that - we do some, we have a very similar challenge in software development, so, I’ve got a real bug bear with the fact, that software can’t work for all its users if the developers developing the software don’t represent all of its users. So, we try really hard to make sure that we have a really diverse team and it’s made-up with a really good balance of male and female and a trans another genders, when we’re looking at putting those teams together, and I think that’s kind of the challenge that you were just describing there and making sure that the people who come into engineering and are building products and services for users - represent the user base, because then we get good quality products and services that meet the needs of that diverse group of users.

Caroline Wood: I think it’s also there’s that, and there’s also to start with that people need to see themselves, you know, they need to see the relevance of those solutions and engineering. There’s a real disconnect between people, you know, people are attached to their smartphones and their laptops. I remember there’s a lady who I find very inspirational, called Jayshree Seth, she’s basically the kind of science champion for 3M and 3M is invested very heavily on engaging the wider population into science, and one of the things that they run is a state of science survey. And she was saying in the very early, I think they are in the fourth or fifth year now… and they’ve sort of being tracking how things, how perceptions have changed and there’s all sorts of really interesting things around how Covid has changed perception of science. But, in the very early days, there was people who would say ‘science is not relevant to me’, and she said they would be filling in the questionnaire on their computer and I think people don’t really see, that actually engineering is part of more or less everything we value, because, you know, because they don’t necessarily, they don’t have the right narrative, they don’t necessarily see the right role model or, you know, they don’t see themselves as being the engineer, because, I mean, extraordinarily, that was before I came, my boss told me that they ran a workshop with some young girls, I think they were fifteen year olds they said to them ‘when you say engineer, what do you see?’ So, that would have been in the 2010s and they said ‘oh brown overcoat and oil rag’ and my boss just went ‘where is that coming from?’, you know, that’s back in the 50s. We’ve got this 50-year gap and nothing has evolved. So, what can we do to sort of change that and I think representation has a huge role to play, as well as exposure.

Kerry Linley: Just as you said, what image conjures up in your mind? Even with my background and being a female founder in tech, which is a minority in itself..., as you said that, I also pictured a man in a white, not a brown coat, but a white coat! So, we’ve moved on a little bit, but even with my background the stereotype was still there.

Caroline Wood: Yeah. We do tours of our and regularly I hear ‘but it’s so clean!’.

Kerry Linley: Not like an engineering environment, not what somebody had expected.

Caroline Wood: Because, I guess, you picture the car garage? I mean, that’s what one of our apprentices, she comes from Zimbabwe and she said, when she told her mum she wanted to be an engineer, she said ‘what? You want to be a car mechanic?’, and she’s like ‘no, no., that's not what I said’, so, there's all sorts of associations.

Kerry Linley: Yes, definitely. Okay, and the benefits for GKN has been? Can you summarise those benefits for me?

Caroline Wood: I think that there’s a lot of them. You know, there’s the kind of the environmental social governance aspect, you know, you’re doing the right thing, you’re encouraging new talent to come through, but actually there’s a, you know, we need those new talents, we have our talent pipeline is not diverse enough, is not full enough, software for us is a big issue, because software is a huge part of automotive engineering now, so, if we’re not going to nurture that pipeline, how can we have the right candidates within that pipeline. So, there’s that element, but there’s also the benefit for our staff. You now, if you’re engaging with young people, you get fresh thinking, you get different skills, but also you are building the confidence of your staff as mentors, as leaders, as managers, because they are having to place that nurturing role and things like Formula Student, sometimes the problem that they come to us - we don’t necessarily know the answer, so, we’re having to solve it with them, so, we’re gaining technical knowledge at the same time. So, there’s so many different dimensions that you’re bringing to the business by just being open to having a new person come in. We might not have as much experience, because, I think there’s the temptation is to say you know, it’s just going to be so complicated they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re going to need a load of nurturing. Some of them do, some of them don’t and then some of it comes to, you know ‘have you got the right attitude and behaviour that we were talking about, and is that more important actually than having the technical knowledge? That’s a whole new podcast. But I think even if it is a bit of effort, what you get in return is so much more, than what you have to put in. I am a big advocate; I think everybody should do it.

Kerry Linley: I have heard similar feedback in my previous role, supporting construction apprentices. And quite often we would hear things from employers, like ‘apprentices are too difficult to manage’ or ‘apprentices have too many issues for us as a business’, ‘administratively it’s too much of a burden for us’. We’ve heard very similar reasons for not doing something and actually as you’ve just quite rightly said - the benefits of doing it, far out way than negatives, I think.

Caroline Wood: I think also, you know, the admin side of the, I mean, I can see that is quite difficult to navigate apprenticeships having come very cold too it, it’s been a steep learning curve, but that's not the fault of the apprentice, that is not the apprentice that’s difficult to manage - it’s the process and the process is not set by the apprentice, so I think that's very unfair as well, to sort of make those comparisons. What you should evaluate is what is that person bringing into the business and not just immediately, but what does it mean for your business in five years’, in ten years’ time, or even you know, two years’ time. One of our apprentices, she is on her second apprenticeship with us, she’s progressed from her Level 3 to her Level 6. The value she has brought, you know, one of our training rigs was designed and built by her. We are continuing, you know, the rig is being improved, not because it needs to be because it wasn’t up to scratch, it’s being improved because now it’s being developed to do more complex things, but it was always spot on and it’s been a really good teaching tool for us. That was done by one of our trainees. Some of that is about giving them the opportunity to try, the opportunity to fail, because sometimes they will fail, but that’s okay, that’s part of their learning, I mean, I know we’re all conditioned to think that we should be number 1 and to always do it right, but actually, that’s probably not that healthy.

Kerry Linley: And I think you learn more from the failures, than you do from the successes, because you go on and make sure you do it better the next time.

I just want to play back what I think I’ve just heard, because I think this is important. What you’ve just described to me in terms of the benefits for GKN are..., you are shining a light on what’s possible and raising aspirations of those young people that you’re engaging with; you are future proofing your business by bringing in new talent, new ideas, fresh approaches; but you're also raising the skills of your existing staff by giving them the capabilities to mentor the next generation coming in. And I think that’s something as employers we should all aspire to do; we need to do more of it. Is there anything that you’d like to say before we move on to the next question?

Caroline Wood: No, I mean, I guess it’s about creating those virtuous circles. It’s being clear on what you need as a business, because I guess that’s the other thing is that, you know, that apprentice, that might be difficult to manage, it might be, because it’s not the right apprentice for you. So, it’s being very clear on ‘what do you need’, ‘how do you get that’ and then, I think, then you do end up with a really mutually beneficial relationship.

Kerry Linley: I was talking to one of my training provider contacts yesterday and (they will remain nameless for the purpose of this conversation) they have been delivering some training with an employer, and this is leadership and management training. So, they’ve been delivering this training with an employer and the employer seems to have a very disjointed approach to that leadership and management training, so what’s happening is, the training is happening, but then it’s not joined up to any of the other initiatives going on in the organisation. So, the training is happening in isolation, they’re upskilling members of the workforce, but then they’re not able to implement the new skills that they’ve learned, because there isn’t this joined up approach across the business. So having that sort of inward-looking approach, as to what does the business need and then delivering what the business needs and then allowing the business to flourish within that. That’s the bit that’s not happening.

Caroline Wood: That’s the hard bit.

Kerry Linley: Yes, it is really frustrating and we would, you know, as you said - maybe that’s another podcast topic for another day.

When you think about recruiting, apart from the obvious and the barriers that we’ve discussed and not having access to young people at an early enough age, what other barriers do you face and are these the same barriers you saw before the pandemic, or have they changed as a result of the past couple of years?

Caroline Wood: They’ve not changed a huge amount. I have been speaking to other colleagues in the industry not with us and they have said, I think it was, I’m not always very good at remembering the exact statistics, but it was some astonishing statistic, like for their Level 3 apprenticeships, they used to have about 6%, I think it was, of the cohort that didn’t have the right requirements in English and Maths and I think it’s jumped to 16% in the last two years, which is a huge jump.

Kerry Linley: 16%?

Caroline Wood: 16%, yes. So, there are some sectors where they are noticing that the levels have dropped. I don’t think we’ve necessarily.... I guess, where potentially Covid has impacted is in terms of practical experience. But the base level for practical experience is quite low anyway. I was completely astonished to find out that a lot of universities don’t really have labs anymore and you know, because it’s expensive and they don’t necessarily have the right funding. So, it’s not necessarily a criticism of them, it’s just something that we’ve noticed and that the students are telling us that the opportunity for them to do hands on practical work is limited for certain areas. It saddened me a great deal when we were at Formula Student. This year a lot of students said to us, that ‘we’re Mechanical Engineers, we have an internal combustion car, we really want to transition to green, and basically people don’t want to help us. The departments don’t talk to each other, there’s nobody there to support us’ and there seemed to be a huge gap, which seems incredible, because these students are actually, potentially learning things that are redundant or are going to be redundant very, very soon. Most automotive engineers are not going to work with IC system, they might work with hybrid and they’re going to work with electrics and then, you know, whatever next source of energy is going to be. So, I think that makes it quite tricky and but also, I think, potentially feeds a diversity issue, because then it’s about, you know, who has the knowledge, connection, money to be able to access opportunities that will enable them to get those practical experience.

We have a policy as a company that if you come for an internship, for more than a week, you will get, we will offer remuneration, so that it’s not just for people that can afford to come and do an internship. But you know, taking part in engineering competition, particularly in the early days it very much depends what school you go to, what capability is within the school about understanding these issues, so there’s just so much discrepancy and that doesn’t seem to be necessarily addressed through the university route now. Obviously the apprenticeship is very different, but I think still not all apprenticeships are, or your experience of your apprenticeship, they are standards and so on, but the experience may vary from on one place to the next and then even in terms of placement, some of the feedback we get from our students is that they really value the fact they’re part of a multidisciplinary team and although they will be allocated to one department, there will be a lot of opportunities for them to get experience across the board, because a lot of them don’t know what they want to do, because again, how would you know if you don’t know what’s out there.

Kerry Linley: …You don’t know what you don’t know.

Caroline Wood: We actually had somebody apply for a graduate position on the basis that his friend had done a year in industry with us and had learned so much, he said. You know, he’d done a year in industry but for him it hadn’t been successful and you know, I’m not saying we’re the best and we’re doing everything right. But I think, in general, there is a need out there for young people to get that variety of experience and it’s not that accessible and I think that’s holding them, it’s making it difficult for them to get a job and it’s difficult for us to get the people with the right skills, and actually, we have to invest in their development if we want them to be operational, because they don’t come work ready.

Kerry Linley: I’m really interested in what you said around education, the education sector and particular universities not having caught up with what you need as an industry and still teaching skills that are, or still using equipment that is being phased out and being replaced by more modern technologies - that’s a real challenge. I know from my experience and my children’s experience that those pupils, who are particularly bright and the school perceives them to be the candidates for A Levels and university - are not pushed into the path of employers, because the school perceives the employer to be the ‘big bad person’ who might come along and steal their star pupils. So, they’re kind of held back from having work experience opportunities, not in all schools, I appreciate in some schools who work with employers like you will see the benefits, but I’ve heard of some really heart-breaking stories where that’s happening. It just sounds like there are a whole host of challenges that need to be addressed, as opposed to three or four barriers that we’ve got to overcome.

Caroline Wood: I think the difficulty you have, is that you have a lot of players with lots of different agendas, because their resourcing is driven by targets that are potentially conflictual. So, I know a bit about how the higher education system works, because I’ve done a PhD and my husband is also a university lecturer. And the way universities are rewarded is not a way that supports their engagement with employers. So, some people do it very well. The head of mathematics and engineering at Oxford Brooks is a star, she will do her upmost to, she set up Oxford Brooks Racing to enhance students' employability, that’s the whole way it’s structured and she will fight for the right resourcing to support that. But universities are not rewarded for working with employers, they are rewarded for their research bid, for their publication. Even good practical teaching doesn’t count as much as what your credential as a university is, what your historical standing is. So, in the same way that schools are measured against how many people they send to Oxford and Cambridge, and the Russell Group and then how many A’s they have and so on. And so, actually, I feel really sorry for young people, because they’re caught between lots of different agendas with, you know, we’ve got the internet, but there’s also a huge amount of information out there, so, how do you try and find out what’s right for you when you have all this information, all this conflicting advice and a career advisor as you say - will vary massively from one school to the next. I work with some amazing career teachers, but I also have worked with people that are less engaged and now it’s sort of less pupil centred.

So, I think that is the biggest challenge in all of this and I think the Gatsby framework where it’s all about trying to bring more engagement, so things like work experience now is compulsory and if you haven’t done it, it will count against you in your application and all of that. And you know, I think there’s still a long way to go, partly because the careers service is often a teacher doing it on top of lots of other things, so, the resourcing is not there. But interestingly I think there is an expectation that employers should play a bigger role in this and it's not always easy to engage with schools, because they are so busy and again, it’s frustrating, but I understand why, because they have a game to play if they want to survive and it’s very sad, but that is the reality.

Kerry Linley: Two points I would make there. So, the first one is unless, as a young person going through the education system, you have somebody in your inner sanctum, who understands the games that are played, you wouldn’t for a minute imagine, that you’re competing against all these other agendas would you? You think education is designed to support you as you grow and you develop and you move on into the workplace and there are all these different sort of agendas that you just pointed out. But the second point that I wanted to make is, and I don’t know if you have any experience of them, the Careers and Enterprise Company, they work very much within the Gatsby framework and are there to bring schools together with industry and employers and do some of the joining up that you’ve just described is needed, and I’ve been a Careers and Enterprise Adviser working with a school and I absolutely agree with you that employers need to take more of a role in helping raise the aspirations beyond people and show them the art of what’s possible. Under the Baker Clause schools have a legal obligation to promote apprenticeships to students yet I read in a report published in 2020 by the Association of Employers and Learning Providers (AELP) that only 11% of pupils aged 15 to 18, 11%, are encouraged by their schools to consider an apprenticeship. How do you work with schools to get that message out to pupils, that there are other options like apprenticeships, that they might want to consider?

Caroline Wood: So, we’ve not practically, we’re not involved in the advice around apprenticeships that schools might give. What we’re trying to do is build strong relationships with schools, so that we give those other opportunities, be it apprenticeship or work experience, so that there is additional opportunities in the mix that the children can take. Actually, what I’ve done quite a few times is done one to one career advice to young people and, with the caveat of saying, I’m a bit of an anarchist when it comes to education, I’m going to sort of shake things up a little bit, so, take what I say with pinch of salt. I try to sort of show them that there is a breadth, and I think a big part of the education around apprenticeships is that people are still stuck in the fact that there’s only a Level 3 and that’s it, and where actually there is a lot more apprenticeship and there’s a lot more opportunity for progression, and that’s not necessarily understood. Partly, because it’s still quite new, so I understand that and getting on to a level 6 apprenticeship is not all this, kind of trying to find the right one, in the right location, it requires a lot of effort. So, we’re sort of try and whenever we can, provide visibility around that. I try to talk to parents. I think there is a huge, there’s still a lot of parents that actually, the schools don’t talk to the children about it, because parents don’t really see the value in them talking about it, and so, there’s a big piece, we’ve only scratched the surface with that, but there's a big piece to be done, so that there is more open mindedness about how people can do, can carve their careers and there isn’t a formula and actually, the formula no longer works anyway, because the volumes are too big. You have too many people with very, very similar CV’s and so making the differentiation becomes extremely difficult, so actually we’re doing our young people a disservice by saying ‘if you do this, this and this, this is what you will get’, because it is no longer true for so many different reasons, and I think what we’re creating is a lot of resentment, because they do everything and then they don’t get the result that they were promised and they don’t understand why. And along the way had to probably make a lot of sacrifices and potentially around the things that they really like and you sort of at the end, you think ‘I’ve sacrificed all of this’ and yet it’s not getting me where I want to be.

Kerry Linley: And then you end up with that disillusionment and resentment, yes, yes… Okay. I read recently that there is a call to financially incentivise schools to recommend apprenticeships to pupils. Is that something that you think would make a difference?

Caroline Wood: I’m not a great believer that if you do this, you’ll get that, or if you do this you won’t get punished, because I don’t think… People will do it, but they’ll go through the motion. You have to believe in the value of what you’re promoting for it to really be worthwhile, because believing is the same as everything, because if you’re going to talk about a subject you’re not passionate about it’s very unlikely, that your audience is going to be passionate about it. So, if you’re just kind of going through the motion, saying: ‘Oh yes, you know, apprenticeships are great!’ - that’s it, tick. I mean I saw it with…, I mean it wasn’t a bad presentation, but my eldest daughter is taking her GCSE’s next year and so they had a talk about apprenticeships. And it was very mechanical, it was ‘this is what you can do’ and the examples that they chose were… I remember a lot of photos of football nets, so, you know, it was all around kind of sports or it was playing to the stereotypes again and it wasn’t saying, so it wasn’t kind of potentially showing the different paths and that if you can do an apprenticeship you could always go and do and you know, even if you wanted to do a degree you could then potentially do a foundation and that there’s lots of different ways to actually get to where you want to be. Or even, I remember actually having a conversation with someone around the pros and cons about apprenticeship and how it can be lonely to do an apprenticeship. It can be great, because you don’t pay, you get educated whilst you’re getting paid and you’re getting that technical knowledge, but depending on where you are, you might be the only young person there, so, for some people that can be really important. Just sort of saying that these things exist, is not really going to help you make an informed decision, whether it is the right thing for you or not - you need to know who has done it, are there some role models out there. I mean, our CEO started as an apprentice, so clearly you can have, you know, he’s now the head of a 27,000 strong company, I think he’s done pretty well, but do we send that message out, do we tell people that that story is possible? I think most of the time people will say ‘well, if you’ve done an apprenticeship, you will just end up on the shop floor for the rest of your life’ and I come from an education system that is very rigid and that is one of the things I value about the British Education system. Actually, it’s so versatile. The mature student's opportunity are huge, but you just need to know what they are, but there’s a lot more flexibility to change paths, and it’s not necessarily easy, but the opportunities are there, which they are not in a lot of educational system, so, let’s make use of that diversity and work with young people’s needs, so that we get ultimately, as an employer, if you get people that are happy in what they do - they will give you more.

Kerry Linley: Just listening to you talk there, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, I’m watching a series at the moment called ‘Lucifer starring Tom Ellis’ and he’s the devil basically. The devil has come to Earth to see what it’s all about, he’s had enough of Hell and there’s, in series two, there’s a clip in one of the particular episodes where Lucifer and his brother, who is also another Angel are on, and this sounds ridiculous, they’re on a tour bus going around Los Angeles and the guy delivering the talk on the tour bus is doing exactly what you’ve just described, which is in a very monotone and bored voice he's describing what you can do in Los Angeles. And Lucifer has enough, he takes the microphone from him, he tells him to sit down and he talks about the real Los Angeles, but there’s real passion in the way he describes it and I think that for me was the image, that conjured up in my mind when you were talking about passion. It’s about, you know, really drilling down into what motivates somebody, what’s going to drive them to stay in this environment and give of their best, but what can they get back from me as an employer as well, that will help to nurture that and you know, get them to redesign the rig so that it works in a better way, in a way that we’d never considered before and the possibilities and the benefits from that are endless, aren’t they?

Caroline Wood: Yes, it’s that employee experience. If you have a positive employee experience, you are much more likely to be loyal to your business and give it your all.

Kerry Linley: And give that little bit extra and I’m not suggesting as employers we always want more from our employees, but there is a real difference between when you’ve got somebody who is truly engaged and the passion and the desire that comes with that, as opposed to someone who is just going through the motions and turning up and taking a pay check at the end of the day.

Okay, a final word on apprenticeships to parents and carers of young people and advice givers to young people who want to find out more about apprenticeships and not necessarily with GKN, but the other routes available to them. What’s your advice, what would be your parting comment in this podcast to those young people?

Caroline Wood: I guess, you know, I’m going to quote our apprentice, our star apprentice Melissa. She said, whenever she gives her inspirational talk about her apprenticeship, she says ‘do your research’. Research, research, research. And I think that’s just the sort of self-awareness - what makes you tick. You know, Melissa chose apprenticeship, because she really doesn’t do well in exams, that pressure, and so she’s very bright, very driven, as I say she’s one of our star apprentices, but she recognises herself that that exam and classroom environment is not where she thrives. So that’s where she started sort of going ’okay, well, what else can I do’ and it’s having that honesty about ‘what areas make me happy?’ what are the things that are not necessarily a weakness, it’s just more kind of looking at ‘what are my strengths’ and then, sort of, talking to as many people and as many different people as possible about what, and ideally in the area that interests you, who has done this, how have they done it, and then you start getting a much more diverse picture. And that research can be tricky, but I think in 2022 it’s a lot easier. Google has its faults, but it's also a pretty useful tool if you're trying to get to that diversity of information. So that would be my advice and if you do do a work experience - just ask people about how did they get there, what do they like about their jobs, you know, having their, not just focusing on the task, but how, because quite a lot of people have ended where they are not by design, but because they’ve sort of followed different paths and that’s okay and actually that’s what makes for a rich working environment.

Kerry Linley: I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

Caroline Wood: I’m getting there, it’s taken me a long time.

Kerry Linley: So, a couple of key things that I’ve taken away from those closing statements - don’t be afraid to look at what, who you are and what you need and what's going to bring the best out in you as somebody going into the workplace and thinking about your next steps. And the second thing I think, and this is something that we can all do is, as employers open your doors to young people and have those conversations with them.

Caroline Wood: Yes, you know, if you can let them come in, go to them. Schools are desperate for people to go and talk about what they’ve done. Just go to your local school, and say, you know, how can I help?

Kerry Linley: It’s being wonderful, it’s been a really insightful conversation. Caroline, thank you so much, I’m going to let you get on with the rest of your busy day. Don’t get too hot in the heat out there and stay safe and I hope to talk to you again soon!

Caroline Wood: It’s been a pleasure, thank you very much for having me.

Kerry Linley: Thank you.


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