Meet Cath, who helps to inspire young people in and around Portsmouth into careers they love 

Cath Longhurst
Cath Longhurst
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EDUCATION Business Partnership (EBP) South has been inspiring youngsters into careers they love since chief executive Cath Longhurst took over the reins of the charity that connects businesses and education 16 years ago.

Working with young people from primary schools through to colleges in the Solent, the organisation has gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of Cath to become the pre-eminent careers service in the area – making a real difference to the lives of youngsters and the businesses they work for.

Women in Engineering Event, Mary Rose Museum. Picture: Helen Yates

Women in Engineering Event, Mary Rose Museum. Picture: Helen Yates

By providing a range of in-house career guidance programmes, activities and external events, EBP South offers a vital link between 53 secondary schools to engage with more than 3,500 businesses.

Following a work-related learning push by the government in the early 2000s to help young people, Cath reveals she spotted an opportunity to help even more young people and businesses find their perfect match.

‘I could see a lot of opportunities for us to do a lot more and be the hub of connecting businesses with schools rather than schools trying to do all that on their own,’ she said.

‘We grew quite rapidly to be about 30 staff and it was a combination of securing new grants and recognising that schools wanted more of what we are we doing.

‘So I went to the schools and said we have this amount of money but if you want to take things to the next level then a donation would make a real difference. From there we established service level agreements which was when we really started to flourish.

‘So at that point we started doing all the work experience for schools and worked with partners and developed a new online system where they can go online and pick their own work experience which was one area of growth.’

Another important area of pushing the charity forward centred around projects. This would include enterprise days where, for example, young people would be given a project, not dissimilar to tasks in the television show The Apprentice, where they think about how they would market it, who their market would be and how to bring businesses in.

‘It doesn’t matter how many times a teacher says you need to do this or that, it is totally different when someone from a business comes in,’ Cath said. ‘They sometimes say we would have thrown your CV in the bin but now we have met you we can really see the potential you have. It’s very powerful getting in front of people.

‘The essence of what we do is getting students to meet those individuals from businesses by going out in the workplace and having that experience, it’s people from businesses coming in to help them prepare for work, whether that is preparing for an interview by giving them a practice interview or by becoming a mentor for them.’

Perhaps one of the most important roles EBP plays is broadening the horizons of youngsters by connecting them with careers they had no idea even existed. ‘We find that quite often they find out about jobs they’ve never heard of before which is something we hear time and time again,’ she said. ‘So to get them inspired at an early age where they think that is something they can do in life is very important to us.

‘We want to get them inspired and enthused so by the time they’ve got to the point where they have a chat with the career’s advisor they have a much better idea of what they have to do but also what kind of person they are.

‘If they go into work experience there is a really good chance they will come out with not just the type of job they want to do but also the environment they want to be working in.’

Planting the seeds of thought for a future career begin at an early age and include primary school activities like ‘guess my job?’ where a classful of children are given four people with different jobs where they have to figure out what the jobs are. This helps stimulate interest and understanding.  

EBP offers a range of activities that help youngsters decide what their career may be including group sessions, career fairs, workshops, educational events, speed networking and mentoring. And with 17,000 young people a year currently involved with EBP there are plenty of success stories.

‘It’s lovely when the young people tell you they want to go into a certain career after speaking to someone in a specific industry after thinking they had no chance of getting in to it,’ Cath said.

‘We had one young guy who was always in trouble but when we had a diver come round and talk about his experiences he was so enthused. After that he started attending school which he had not been doing before. It’s wonderful when you make a real difference like that.

‘There was also a young man who had an interest in the media and we found him an individual mentor from a television studio and he ended up going to do work experience there.

‘It’s about finding a spark in someone. We had one girl who came from a family of cleaners and after attending one of our events she was so inspired and decided she wanted to go into engineering.’