Employers lead careers mentoring programme

Year 11 students will be mentored by local employers to help them with their KS5 and career choices.

Lucky Year 11 students are being encouraged to hone in on their career aspirations with the start of a new project – the Careers Mentoring Programme.

Set up between UTC Reading and the Sage Foundation, the programme will see small groups of students paired with inspirational mentors working in the STEM sector who will drill down into what they want to be and how they go about getting there – as well as getting them to question every step of the journey. Why do they do what they want to do? Is it truly their ambition, or their parents? What experiences do they have that will help them on their way and how can they best tell that story to potential employers? How can their CV put them at the front of the recruitment queue? What set-backs might there be along the way, and how do you bounce back or even re-route?

Our mentors will be giving the students the benefit of their knowledge, while all the time keeping site of what our students want and need from each session. In the shorter term, the programme will support the students with making decisions about their Key Stage 5 studies.

The programme kicked off on Tuesday October 4, with a ‘meet and greet’. The mentors met the small groups of students they will be working with over the next six months and used the session to explain their background and their intentions as mentor. The students had time to question them and speak about their own plans for the future.

Student reactions at the end of the session was good, with youngsters saying it was: ‘really interesting and insightful’; ‘inspiring’; ‘great to be able to network with employers’ and ‘good to understand how the industry works’.

Another student said: “They explained that the A Levels you pick don’t put you in a box for your future. She really encouraged me to explore different pathways.”

Some of the employers attending explained why they wanted to get involved with the project: Melanie Perry, from PoppyPerryMedia: 

“I was delighted to be contacted by UTC to be asked if I would participate in their SAGE Foundation Mentoring scheme for Year 11’s.  Having mentored in the corporate environment, I am excited to bring these skills to a younger generation and help them navigate their way through their final stages of education, open their minds to possibilities they may not have thought about before, to inspire them and leave them in the knowledge that they can achieve what ever it is they set their heart on.”

Mike Weeks from Iconic Project Management: 

“At Iconic Project Management, we’re on a mission to make the construction industry a space that offers opportunity, in which people can be proud to work. Taking part in the mentoring programme is a great way for us to share our knowledge and experience. Hopefully, we’ll start the next generation of project managers on the path to a successful career while raising the profile of our sector.”

Nathan Harphan from TRL: 

“I signed up to the mentoring programme as I love working with students and I think there is huge value for them in discussing the world of work with REAL employees. I’ve learnt so much in the last few years and it would have been really useful to demystify the life of a scientist/data analyst etc. back at their age”

Gabrielle Powell from Stantec: 

“I signed up to mentor UTC students because when I was in their position, having a STEM mentor would have been so valuable. Also they’re at such a high-pressure age career-wise, I want to reassure them it’s okay to not know – the STEM career they want may not even exist yet!”

Many thanks for all the mentors who generously giving up their time, including: Mike Weeks from Iconic Project Management; Jill Thompson and Aristotelis Liakatas from Jacobs; Lesley Reeves at FISCAL Technologies; Gabrielle Powell and Thea Harland at Stantec; Dave Davies from Sandler Training; Nathan Harpham and Joseph Forrest from TRL; Iain Bruce from Perishable Movements Limited; Marc Beattie from MiCiM Ltd; Jeremy Muscroft from PJA; Paul Lockley from Device Authority; Julie Osborne from Vodafone; Simisola Onalaja from Wood Plc; Neil Brooks from Maersk; Usman Qaiyum from CloudFactory and Melanie Perry from Poppy Perry Media. We will be updating with news as the project continues.

Mentoring session 2 – identifying strengths and weaknesses

Our mentors came in for their second session with their groups of students on Tuesday, November 1.

This time the groups looked at personal insights, strengths and weaknesses. Each mentor kicked off the session – telling their groups what they thought they were good at, using stories for context. They spoke about their character, strengths, weaknesses, abilities in the workplace, why their friends and colleagues value them and how this affects their relationships and performance.

Then came each student’s turn. They were asked the same questions, which, while uncomfortable for some, proved a safe space for each youngster to begin to reveal a bit more about themselves. Some spoke about their prowess in sports, or confidence in leading a project. Weaknesses included problems focussing on one task at a time, time management or maybe not having a clear idea of what they wanted to be.

The point was to show the students that it’s important to identify these characteristics in oneself and recognise that they can be transferrable skills or improved upon. Being self aware can increases your self-belief, allowing you to take on any future challenges without crumbling.

For example, playing sport demands teamwork and dedication; confidence leads to natural team leaders, while not having a clear focus can mean you are more open to looking at numerous pathways.

Commenting on the session, Lesley Reeve from Fiscal Technologies said: 

“What a wonderful morning of mentoring an equally wonderful set of UTC pupils. Eager to learn from me the art and importance of open communication. Assuring them that confidently talking about strengths and weaknesses is essential to workplace conversations. I can’t wait to see how they progress through this programme.”

Gabrielle Powell from Stantec:

Mentoring session 3 – STEM In-Depth

Our mentors came in for their third session with their groups of students on Tuesday, December 6.

This time the groups discussed the technology our mentors experienced in their working lives – anything from pagers to early computers.

While our youngsters couldn’t conceive of a time before iPhones and tablets, many of our mentors could and enjoyed discussing the incredible changes to technology the years have brought – especially in the STEM sector.

Mentors discussed the technical subjects our students are studying in depth, linking it to student’s aspirations for the future.

Jeff Hunter, Engineering Director at MiCiM, which offers technical, construction management and project management services to the data centre and mission critical industries, was impressed with how his group was focused on sustainable tech going forward, saying:

“My group had a great interest in what I do as a business because it’s all about data and phones and WhatsApp and emails etc…The group had a strong interest in the environmental impact [of data centres] on the world. We looked into the possibilities for green power, atomic power, hydrogen, wind, wave, capture, solar – where that was going and what careers might be available in the future.”

Mentoring session 4 – Building a CV

A sub-zero morning saw our mentors brave the ice on Tuesday 17 January to work with their groups on creating a killer CV! 

This time our students looked at the value of the CV as a sales document, securing them an interview and hopefully a job!

Groups discussed building a first CV – what sorts of things should and shouldn’t go on that early careers CV and what sort of language should you use to best sell your skills and attributes? What are some of the things that will make you stand out in a crowd of applicants? Might that UTC project you worked on make you stand out more than your exam results for example? What do your hobbies say about you – are you a team player? Does your love of tech shine through in your interests? What can you be doing now to build an impressive CV – volunteering? DofE? In short, how do you make YOU shine on one side of paper?

Mentors brought in some examples of good and not so good CVs and set about finding out which of those fictional applicants our students would hire, and why. They talked too about their own CV building process, and what they as employers are looking for in applicants, in both those new to the world of work and those with varying levels of experience.

A few of our students brought their own CVs with them to undergo the scrutiny of their mentors and peers. Some very professional looking CVs were put forward – but of course a good CV isn’t all about presentation. Our mentors pointed out that although there are advantages to a creative layout, sometimes these won’t be recognised by an automated CV submission system which cuts you out of the running at the get-go – further proof that research is needed on every position applied for with the CV tailored to meet those criteria.

This session was in preparation for a CV building day the Year 11s will be undertaking in early February. The following mentoring session will see all students come prepared with their own CVs ready for mentor scrutiny.

Mike Weeks, from Iconic Project Management said:

“I was great to kick off the year with another mentoring session with the Year 11 students at UTC Reading. We talked through the students’ CVs as a first stage in a series of employment and interview related activities they will work through over the next month. The students were engaging and enthusiastic, recognising the importance of this step in their journey from education to employment.”

Speaking about the day, our students were enthusiastic about the advice they had received.

Manny, who hopes to work in the music industry ultimately, said:

 “It’s good to get advice from someone who’s worked in industry on CVs because they know exactly what employers will be looking for. Having the mentor means you can ask questions and make sure you’re on the right track.”

Students (and buddies) Ivan and Lok said:

 “Our mentors are very useful – we have learnt a lot of things that will help us get on in our future lives, like how to find work experience and what qualifications you should get to give you higher chance of getting certain jobs. We are looking forward to learning more.”


Final session – Speed Networking

Our final sessions with our fabulous mentors culminated in a 

Mentors moved around on rotation 5 times so students had the opportunity to speak with up to 5 different employers. Students had lots of interesting questions prepared and our mentors gave them an insight into their jobs, their roles and what their everyday work was like. It was enjoyed by both students and mentors!

Stephanie Mitchell, Deputy Head of School thanked all of the mentors who have so kindly given their time over the past few months to pass on their wisdom and some tricks of the trade to our students; it really does have a long-lasting impact on them.

Of the Speed Networking, Steph said:

“A really fantastic way to end our Year 11 employer mentoring programme. Its so important for students to practice communication skills and have the opportunity to network with a wide range of employers.”




Nathan Harpham – TRL

Aristotelis Liakatas – Jacobs



Dave Davis – Sandler Training



Gabrielle Powell – Stantec






Mike Weeks –  Iconic Project Management




Jerry Muscroft –  PJA



Jeff Hunter –  MiCiM





Julie Osborne –  Vodafone




Paul Lockley of Device Authority





Lesley Reeve of FISCAL Technologies





Usman Qaiyum of CloudFactory

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