“WE’RE not bothered about engaging with the next generation of the workforce,” said no business in the world ever.

It’s a common aspiration but the crucial point is how you go about it.

Macphie has a long history of “doing the right thing”, working with schools and local communities for decades but over time it had become patchy.

As a general rule, if someone asked us, we said yes. It was a chaotic mix of short deadlines, rota scrambling and cries of “what can we tell them?”

It was an unsatisfactory solution for both sides.

Okay, so schools got someone to fill a lesson. Macphie got a temporary warm fuzzy glow that swiftly faded from the memory.

But we needed to be more effective and we needed to be clearer on what we’re trying to achieve.

In short, we needed a plan and this is where Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) came in.

The plan

In effect we used DYW as agents. They gently quizzed us on what we want to achieve, the time and expertise we have, and crucially can afford to give, and then they made the introductions.

It did feel artificial at times. We wanted to get on and “do stuff” but after they made the connections between us and Mearns and Mackie academies, everything started to fall into place.

There was a swift realisation that it was as much about working with the teachers as it was working with the pupils.

We invited the teaching staff from both schools in to meet us, hear what we do and work out how that can help them teach their students.

Realism

The “Meet Macphie” event was a turning point. From there, we find out the subject and the general lesson that is being taught and we try to make it practical and realistic.

For example in home economics, we provide a technologist and marketer to explain how food products are developed before asking the pupils to do it themselves.

We get an operative from the production line in to describe their working day.

Our HR team provides the CV pitfalls and stern faces to take the sting out of the job application process.

The schools tell us that this exposure to the real life working world is invaluable. Apparently, “the pupils all sit up a little straighter when a real person walks into the classroom”.

The pros

So what do we get out of it?

We stretch our staff out of their everyday routine, we learn the curriculum and gain experience of modern teaching practice.

It helps dispel the myth that a career at Macphie is all about becoming a baker.

It gives us stories to tell internally – giving our employees, and in some cases parents, a sense of pride as what they do is highlighted in their communities.

We say that we do the right thing. This proves it.

When it comes to what I have learned myself, well the curriculum is certainly more flexible and dynamic than I remember from school.

But I’ve also learned that with time comes a disconnect, whether between me and the classroom or teachers with the latest business practice.

The biggest and most positive lesson has been the will to learn from each other.

Witnessing colleagues’ trepidation followed by genuine joy at achieving something that was outside their comfort zone has been inspiring. The pupil’s handwritten thank you note to one of our operatives, the enthusiasm of youth for jumping off benches for photographs to their openness to expressing their thoughts and ideas.

The pupils’ own way of thinking has opened my own mind and stopped the “you don’t know you’re born”, “it’s not like it was in my day” although I’ve still not quite moved from my “Latin is good, emojis are bad” position.

Schools are different with different challenges but the aim of setting young people up for the best start in life has remained the same.

Our experience has certainly shown me the value of partnerships with organisations like DYW.

So be clear on what you want to achieve, stay open to change and new ideas – and enjoy the experience.