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Form the Future – turning passion into purpose for young people

Form the Future equips young people with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to move from education into a rewarding career, and connects with businesses to create opportunities and community outreach activities.

They have been tenants with us in our Cambridge Future Business Centre (FBC) since launching in 2015, and are now based in a bigger office at our Cambridge Central FBC to suit the needs of their growing team.

We spoke to Anne Bailey, Co-Founder and Director, about Form the Future’s work over the last few years, and some of the biggest challenges facing young people today.

Could you tell me about Form the Future?

We focus on three main groups. The first is students themselves – young people typically aged 8-18, and our goal is to help them get the information, support and experience they need so that they can make informed decisions about their future. Too many young people are on this conveyor belt through education, chasing exam results and trying to do the right things in school, but they’re very rarely given any ideas about what’s out there in the real world. It’s about helping them be inspired. We want to make sure young people know about their options, and believe that they could pursue a whole range of things, no matter what their background is.

The second group is schools – schools need us as a partner because they have obligations to deliver careers education programmes for students. They have no money to do that with, and sometimes don’t have knowledge or understanding of the business world. We work in close partnership with businesses, and help put schools in contact with people who work in all sorts of roles and industries. We help make the schools aware of what’s changing in the local labour market, and ensure the education they’re giving children is going to help them with their next steps. We sit in the middle between students, schools and businesses.

The third group is businesses who are on the lookout for future talent, and some are worried about where their future work force is going to come from. Their employees who get involved with us really value the opportunity to do so – it’s a bit of CSR, learning and development. In the war for talent, we are able to give their employees opportunities to go out and volunteer to help young people.

Could you explain a little bit about the sector in which FtF carries out its work?

We tend to say we’re in education, although we’re in a cross over between education and employment. It’s a bit of a grey area. For example, we do a lot of work around apprenticeships, where we’re trying to match opportunities with candidates and vice versa – so I would say we’re in the careers education sector.

How do you deliver your mission to empower young people?

We provide a comprehensive and coordinated programme of support. That could be anything from school events, such as a careers fair or speed networking, and interactive activities where people from industry explain their roles and what they do.

We run skills-related sessions in schools, like how to perform well in an interview and how to write a CV. We have a programme of mentoring, which has been primarily targeted at young people who need that little bit of extra support. Our mentors work with them on a more intensive 1-2-1 basis, meeting once a month, and helping them set and achieve goals. It’s a very rewarding experience to be able to see an individual really blossom under your leadership, and the stories we’ve heard have been really quite powerful.

We also run Cambridge Launch Pad on behalf of a group of local businesses. It’s STEM focused and is all about hands on learning and interactive experiences – specifically about challenging some of the stigmas that exist. We want to have as many girls taking part as boys, and we try to challenge some of the ideas around who can do science. People of all abilities can take part in STEM – it’s very inclusive.

When you’re a start-up, if you give up at the first hurdle you’re never going to get anywhere. We’re very good at being able to support each other to come up with creative solutions.

What are some of FtF’s main achievements?

Since launching in 2015, we’ve helped over 61,000 young people across Cambridgeshire. Relatively quickly, we’ve become recognised and taken on by schools as their trusted partner for careers. We’ve also been able to secure really good levels of support from businesses – we’ve logged something like 60,000 hours of employer volunteering time.

We were so proud to win the Allia Award for Social Entrepreneurship last year. Everyone at Form the Future is completely committed to delivering great stuff for young people and our corporate partners. We have pretty high standards here in that we do not give up – we do not believe that anything is impossible, and we’re always trying to find ways to make things work. When you’re a start-up, if you give up at the first hurdle you’re never going to get anywhere. We’re very good at being able to support each other to come up with creative solutions.

What impact has Form the Future made since you began?

I think we’ve created something that didn’t exist in Cambridge before. We created a new market place, and we’re really proud that we’ve got recognition and acceptance. Just recently, I’ve had three of the major organisations in the region invite me to join their leadership groups as part of an advisory panel or to chair a committee – we feel respected for our knowledge and understanding of the sector we’re working in.

Just the other day we heard about a student who has been offered a job from one of the accountancy firms that came and did a talk about apprenticeships for us. That happens all the time. Students will also tell us that they thought they were going in one direction, and then they met someone through us and it helped them to see that there was something else out there for them. We were told by Cottenham Village College that the students involved in the mentoring programme made some of the best academic progress that they’d ever made. That was heart-warming for us, as we want to encourage their motivation, confidence and commitment to their future, and it’s playing out in their results.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing young people today?

One of the things that we can’t help but be worried about is the mental health crisis for young people. We know they’re under tremendous pressure, and I fear that even talking about their future could be adding to that. I hope what we’re trying to do is help young people to feel less overwhelmed, more supported and more informed. We don’t give advice – we won’t tell people what to do. We equip young people with information so that they can reflect on what they’re learning and decide what’s right for them. By giving them these experiences and building their network of contacts, we’re hopefully making them more confident and optimistic about their future.

A challenge we have is that there’s no money for what we do. We’ve been lucky enough to secure some grant funding, some projects, and corporate support. We had hoped when we set up originally as a social enterprise that we’d be able to sell more of our services into schools, but schools frankly do not have the budget.

Has there been any notable changes in government policy or legislation recently that has affected young people? Is there legislative change that you would like to see happen?

One of the things that came out just over a year ago was a new careers strategy for schools – new responsibilities, and a whole series of opportunities for young people. The great news was the schools we’d been working so closely with for several years were well placed to be able to tick the boxes. It’s been good because it’s saying that what we’re trying to provide to young people isn’t optional – it’s required.

We’re also about to see the emergence of T-Levels, due to come into place in 2020. T-Levels are meant to be A-Levels for technical education, in the way that the A-Level is the gold standard, T-Levels will be gold too – it will elevate vocational education to that level. It will be interesting seeing how that plays out in giving learners some options.

Form the Future were recently awarded a contract with Cambridge Regional College to deliver a new apprenticeship scheme in the region on behalf of the Greater Cambridge Partnership. find out more here.

If you would like to find out more about Form the Future’s work or get involved, visit: