By Anne Ashman, general manager MVIS and Bartco UK

A considerable degree of a business’ success depends on establishing strong working relationships with other companies.  Four years ago, we extended our network beyond the commercial to include our local secondary school, and it has turned out to be one of our most beneficial associations.


Our relationship with Matlock’s Highfields school began when it approached us to ask whether we would consider offering work placements to its students, which we now do annually.  As well as providing us with students who bring with them a fresh pair of eyes and enthusiasm, they have also helped us to develop our apprenticeship programme; Cain Gregory undertook a work placement then proactively approached us for a technical apprenticeship, which we were delighted to offer.


The benefits of apprenticeships cannot, in my opinion, be overstated.  Our apprentices have all worked hard and been eager to progress, and their retention rate has been excellent.  Our assistant operations manager, Dom Bridge – another former Highfields student – was recently promoted to the role, having joined us as an apprentice five years ago.   Our young apprentices have also proved highly knowledgeable regarding IT and social media, and this has been extremely helpful to us.  Furthermore, coming straight from school, they have been completely “clean slates” and so readily accept our modus operandi.


This year, we extended the scope of our association with Highfields when I became an enterprise advisor (EA) to the school.  The idea behind enterprise advisorships is that they help secondary schools to build careers strategies that give students multiple opportunities to learn about work, meeting the Gatsby Benchmark standard highlighted in the government’s new careers strategy launched in December.  One of the strategies’ goals is to encourage students to broaden their horizons beyond simply university, to include other possibilities, such as degree apprenticeships.


Within this role, I use my business experience to advise Highfields on the skills required in industry, including those within the highways sector.   We offer students valuable interview experience. I also provide the school with access to my own corporate network – filling what is often a gap in schools’ own contacts –  and the school’s new industry contacts have gone on to generate their own careers support opportunities such as work placements and apprenticeships.


Being able to introduce my own contacts to the benefits of work placements, apprenticeships and the other elements of a working relationship with a school, is a great way of nurturing my industry network.


Alongside all of this, since last year we have been running MVIS Challenges:  annual school-based projects for year eight – and this year also year nine – students, encouraging them to consider the diverse roles that Bartco UK variable message signs (VMS) can perform.  Again, it’s always interesting to view things through new eyes, and the challenges are already encouraging students to request placements with us as they get older.


Another business benefit of our relationship with the school has been in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR).  As this becomes increasingly important to companies throughout the highways sector, the provision of careers support like this is proving an effective means of supporting local communities.


The school’s life and work skills coordinator, Jane Turner, recently summarised the benefits to Highfields:  “Our association with MVIS and Bartco is not simply enabling us to honour our commitment to meeting the requirements of the government’s new careers strategy.  It is allowing us to support our pupils as they fully explore their career options and prepare for the world of work.”


And the benefits don’t stop with MVIS, Bartco UK and the school.  The highways sector faces a shortage of recruits – especially those embarking on technical careers – and work like ours to engage youngsters while still at school is already helping to encourage them to consider it as a potential career route.


The cost to MVIS and Bartco UK of our work with Highfields is minimal.  Once the individual initiatives have been established, I would estimate that I personally only spend around half a day a month on school-related business, whether on my six-weekly EA meetings, or on a small number of interim calls and emails.


I would strongly encourage other companies within the highways sector to consider establishing their own links with their local schools.  They would find that the business benefits are considerable and long-term, not to mention those for the industry as a whole.