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REVIEW: Inspiring the Future


How YOU can help open children’s eyes to careers

Inspiring the Future, a free service that connects volunteers with schools.

In a nutshell

You’re not tying yourself down to a huge commitment – Julian Green, volunteer

For busy people who love their work, enjoy talking about it and want to give something back, Inspiring the Future asks you to pledge just one hour a year to go into schools and talk about your job.

If you would like to help girls think about their careers, you can sign up to Inspiring Women, which is part of Inspiring the Future and works in the same way.

Find them at

How it works

You sign up through a secure portal where you enter your specialism, activities you’d be interested in doing and the locations you’d be able to do them. You then sit back and wait for schools to contact you.

There’s no paperwork and no DBS security checks, and you don’t get bogged down in email exchanges with schools either. After you receive a request from a school, the click-based system allows you to select from three options that indicate your level of availability. So you can arrange the whole thing while on the go.

Your initial communication with a school is always through the safe and secure portal so you never deal directly with a school unless you want to. ‘If I get an opportunity I don’t feel keen on, say if it’s a bit too far away, it’s much easier for me to say no to ITF than to a head teacher who’s emailing me directly,’ said Julian, release manager at Kantarmedia. ‘Because you can say no, you often find that you don’t,’ he added.

What’s different about it?

There are no mail outs; you’re not inundated with spam. It’s very light touch, which is why it suits people who are busy but want to play their part – Ruth Shaw, volunteer

Beyond your hour a year, you can put in as much or as little as you like. After you’re matched with a school and deliver your first activity, it’s up to you and the school to decide how things go from there. Some volunteers just do a one-off talk while others set up a regular arrangement with a school, such as becoming a reading or numbers partner to a child for a term.

Your talk is about you and your career. You’re not teaching anything so there are no slides or materials to prepare beforehand. ‘You can go in without too much faff or prep and just have a chat; an interaction,’ said Ian Stapleton, ITF volunteer and account manager CIMA.

About the work

Your specific background isn’t the most important thing. It’s about your experience and how you go there – Felipe Baquero, volunteer

It’s about sharing your interests and insights with those about to start out on their own journey, from how you applied for your job and the interview process to what your work involves and why you love doing it. Everyone’s got something in their working life that will be interesting or useful for young people. ‘Nuggets of inspiration – we all got them from somewhere, whether it was a random conversation or a big presentation,’ said Kim Branagh, HR manager at PepsiCo.

You might be someone who’s happy to give a 20-minute talk about your career at a school assembly. If that’s a horrifying thought, you can chat informally about the world of work with smaller groups of students at a careers fair, which normally lasts around an hour. Other activities include helping with CVs, running mock interview sessions and one-to-one classroom-based support with learning.

What do the teachers say? Claire Campbell, work related learning teacher at Tunmarsh School in East London, told us: ‘Inspiring the Future was an excellent resource. It is amazing to know that so many professional volunteers are willing to give up their time to talk and empower young people to think about their next steps and future career aspirations.’

Training and support

Training is not included in this free service so you will need to feel fairly confident about communicating with young people or be prepared to seek help with this separately. ‘You might even benefit from not having training,’ said Sarah Cunnane, ITF volunteer and editorial content manager at TES Global. ‘If you haven’t been trained to speak to children in a certain way, you’ll come across as more natural, which is important because students can sense insincerity a mile off,’ she said.

You won’t be dropped in at the deep end without any support. Volunteers are given advice sheets about what to expect on their first school visit as well as sample questions that they might be asked. And, of course, the ITF team is only a phone call away if you have any questions.

Volunteers are not allocated an ITF contact to oversee things or act as a reference point. So once you’re matched with a school, it’s up to you to work things out with the teachers directly.

On the day itself, you won’t be left alone unsupervised; a teacher is expected to be present at all times, which is why volunteers aren’t required to have a DBS check.

Personal qualities

A lot of thought needs to go into how to engage young people. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes – Kim Branagh, volunteer.

Every parent knows the challenge of young attention spans. You’ll need be engaging, at least a little bit extravert and comfortable with talking about yourself and your work. It is also important to remember what it feels like to be that age and facing a whole spectrum of unknowns.

Almost all the volunteers we spoke to found their groups shy and tentative at first, which the wrong person could easily misinterpret as disinterest and be put off. ‘You have to be willing to get stuck in and not necessarily wait for questions to come to you,’ said Sarah. Tenacity is important but not to the point of being overbearing.

Skill and sensitivity at answering tricky, irrelevant or personal questions, such as: ‘are you married?’ and ‘what car do you drive?’ is a must. And they do come quick and fast. ‘It’s always difficult when they ask how much you earn,’ said Felipe Baquero, a solicitor and former contestant on BBC One’s The Apprentice.

What are the challenges?

Being back in a school environment can have a regressive effect and some volunteers reported feeling a bit lost and vulnerable at the beginning. ‘I felt like I was 11 years old again, walking back into a girls’ school,’ said Ruth who has the very grown-up role of chief executive of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority. ‘The school environment is noisy and the boys can be 10ft taller than you. After being in a corporate environment it’s a culture shock’ said Kim.

Schools can be chaotic at times and occasionally things do go wrong. One volunteer had to compete with the cacophony coming from a careers fair parallel to where she was giving her talk. ‘It was organised chaos at best,’ she said. ‘You have to be resourceful.’

While teachers generally do their best to be supportive and to help, it’s possible that you’ll need to fend for yourself from time to time. ‘It’s difficult when you’re talking to a big group and you’ve got a trouble-maker in the crowd who’s shouting things out at you, and the teachers don’t say anything’ said Ian.

Things don’t always move that quickly. You could wait a few months before a school sends you a request, which is not uncommon. While setting wide parameters helps, if you’re looking for immediate and regular volunteering opportunities, this might not be the best option for you.

Involving your employer

If you think your colleagues would also welcome the opportunity to inspire young people, ITF’s engagement team can work with your employer to sign up your co-workers. Click here to find out more.

Tim Kilbride, assistant head of Ninetiles school in Acocks Greens, said: When it comes to careers advice, students tend to hear teachers say the same old things. It helps their understanding when someone from the real, current world, talks them through the job market out there, rather than all their information coming from within the school.

Ian Stapleton   Ruth Shaw   Julian Green
Ian Stapleton has volunteered at over 20 ITF events. He said: ‘Some of the kids can’t visualise being in the workplace, learning new skills or coming out of the estate they live in. They’re entrenched in their own situation. There’s a lot more work that’s needed.’   Ruth Shaw, who signed up to ITF two years ago, said: ‘It’s really fun and rewarding. It’s brilliant to meet young people and to remind yourself what it was like to be their age and unsure about your future but with all that possibility ahead of you.’   Julian Green, who managed to sign up 50 of his employees to ITF, said: ‘What inspires me about ITF is the whole idea of breaking down the gap between schools and the workplace. Getting young people to believe what’s inside of them so that they can achieve is an amazing thing.’


Sarah Cunnane got involved with ITF through her employer. She said: You might not think of yourself as having anything particularly inspiring to say or to offer. You think of inspiring people as being presidents and great speakers but actually, young people also want to hear real-world experience from a real-world person who’s gone through it and that’s me.’

Kim Branagh, who volunteered at a school careers fair in Haringey, said: ‘It’s really tough for young people today. You just need to see the stats and the emotive footage of kids coming from deprived backgrounds or lacking the support network to make the most of their potential. I wouldn’t want that for my child.’

Find out more about volunteering with ITF by visiting

Have you volunteered with ITF? We would love to hear about your experiences.

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