As part of the ‘All pupils, every ambition: Future work’ campaign, we are pleased to introduce our newest article, kindly authored by Careers Collective. Sharing their personal insight into becoming a governor, as well as supporting schools with career education development, they showcase the value that self-employed people can bring to a school board and a schools’ careers provision.

Putting your name forward to serve as a governor, regardless of your occupation or life experience, does challenge your imposter syndrome somewhat – I should know, as I have done it twice! Those of us interested in supporting our local school community must first identify what it is we think we can bring. Those governor applicants with high-status occupations or backgrounds in education have some classic elements to act as pillars in their applications (what school doesn’t want a Sergeant Major or Managing Director with leadership skills?) but what if you have been working as a self-employed plumber, run a small cake decorating business or are a freelance writer for the medical profession? What are the pillars that will provide structure for your application, which prove that you have something of value to offer and which can inform your approach during your term?

If you are self-employed, you are one of nearly 4.2 million people who have made that career choice in the UK (Dec 2021 Statista and Office for National Statistics). This number grew steadily from 3.2 million in 2000 and reached a peak in 2020 of over 5 million, before Coronavirus emerged to change the careers landscape. You might be an entrepreneur, a small business owner, a skilled craftsperson, independent professional, farmer, agency worker or contractor. Even though your numbers are falling as a result of the pandemic, analysts have in the past been confident in the ability of the self-employed, especially those who are highly skilled, to thrive in a recession.

Perhaps this knowledge can provide you with one of the pillars upon which you can build both your application and approach as a governor because resilience is a core skill needed by students not only to manage any future career journey but also to cope with what life is already throwing at every young person in the country. The self-employed are not protected from extremes of economic weather in the same way that permanent employees are. We must be empathetically tuned into economic weather reports like trawler skippers and change our course immediately to avoid a disaster. We must weather each storm or our business, consultancy or service will cease to be viable. There are hugely valuable lessons and experiences that the school community can benefit from when a self-employed governor joins the Board.

The source of this resilience could be innovation and creative thinking. Research has shown (ONS) that freelancers are vital for the economy because they drive innovation and provide much needed efficiency and flexibility, which of course boosts economic output, something that is greatly needed in a recession or flagging economy, but also in schools that are facing lower levels of funding per pupil than they were 10 years ago. Not only that, but employers tell us that they need to hire people with these soft skills, and, looking to the future, for a green economy to really work, we need our young innovators and creative thinkers to recognise the potential of their contribution and start to develop those inherent skills. Self-employed governors can support schools to create opportunities for young people to do that.

Other competencies and characteristics deemed necessary for successful self-employment could absolutely be a checklist for any pastoral or career development programme in schools and includes initiative, self-awareness, motivation, independence, networking, commercial awareness and being goal-oriented. As a self-employed person, you quite probably embody the kind of individual that schools are trying to cultivate through various programmes and interventions, so would be a fantastic addition to the pastoral committee or careers programme working group. Pillar number 3: sorted.

For pillar 4, I want to raise something missing often from school career development programmes and from the careers conversation generally. It is a core element of the way a freelancer operates, and increasingly, the way the world of work operates, and that is the hustle. I spent years as a classroom teacher, then worked for a large charity before striking out as a freelance consultant and, now, run a startup. I so wish I had been taught about the hustle. In response, one of our objectives as a startup in the careers sector is to support young people in understanding that job opportunities don’t just land in front of you, that most job applications aren’t even seen by a human being, that redundancy quite likely will happen at some point and that it takes a great deal of inner strength and confidence to hustle your way through all of that and make progress in your career, whether you are self-employed or not. We teach some of the key knowledge and skills needed to prepare for and navigate all of those barriers because we have a responsibility to ensure that young people can thrive in the world of work as it really is before we send them on their way. Self-employed governors can absolutely bring their lived experience to bear on the way that schools design their careers programmes and the kind of encounters with the world of work that provide realism and perspective.

Although 4 pillars are plenty in terms of providing structure to your application or approach as a governor, there is one more. Historically, schools have tended, through very little fault of their own, to provide an enormous amount of information and support around university applications. I know this also from personal experience, having been inundated for years as a Head of 6th Form with brochures, open days, and application advice for universities, as well as being provided with a fully functioning year-long application process to follow in the form of UCAS.  This doesn’t leave a great deal of space for the exploration of alternatives to a traditional degree, and the status quo is hard to challenge. However, as a self-employed governor, your career path is more likely to have been a little more avant garde, shall we say, than others, so you can support your school in creating a more diverse approach to careers advice and guidance, to meet the needs of all students. Your perspective and voice are key to ensuring we don’t always do what we’ve always done, because, well, we know.

So, we know governance works best when there is a range of perspectives and skillsets around the virtual or physical table, with a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences making for increased insight, and more robust debate, challenge, and ultimately decision making, so leave your imposter syndrome at the door and bring your self-employed best to the role of governor.

If you’re interested in learning more about how your skills could benefit a school board, to learn more visit our website. We’ll support you from the moment you apply, and will work to match your unique skillset with a school in need.