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How I grew teacher engagement in a tomato nursery

09 May 2024

As the General Manager of The Green House Sussex, I wanted to help young people understand the merits of a career in horticulture – and my involvement as an Enterprise Adviser since 2021 has allowed me to represent my industry within the local community.

The biggest misconception about our work is that we just pick tomatoes in a glasshouse. In reality, we offer an abundance of pathways for young people. The Teacher Encounters scheme offered an ideal opportunity for us to readdress that perception, and directly influence the people who support the next generation.

In my opinion, the best way to view the programme is like a condensed form of work experience for adults. Compared to some other careers education initiatives – which often serve as a snapshot of an industry or role – inviting teachers into the workplace provides them with a uniquely holistic insight into the inner workings of a business.

The first event

Last June, we had the pleasure of hosting a two-day session for two staff members with varying experience from The Angmering School. They were an excellent fit because their IT and Business Studies backgrounds correlated well with the operational systems we use to achieve our annual targets – but I stand by the fact that teachers of any subject could benefit from the programme. Inviting them to join us at the peak of our summer crop also meant they could see every side of the business in action, making it easier to relate all of our working practices back to the curriculum.

First and foremost: everyone enjoyed it! Both teachers got stuck into every task and their enthusiasm for integrating with our staff made the team more comfortable sharing their knowledge. This, in turn, enlightened the teachers on the diversity of personalities and backgrounds we employ.

It’s not easy for anyone to immerse themselves in a different environment, so hopefully the experience replicated the reality of joining a new workplace – serving as a contextual reminder of the employability and social skills that young people in school need to be supported with.

Careful preparation

Preparation is crucial, so arranging a simple call prior to the visit helped us develop a rapport and agree on some intended outcomes. Together, we decided that two days would be a suitable time frame: enough for extensive engagement without sacrificing too many resources.

I recommend anyone organising a Teacher Encounter to create a detailed itinerary beforehand – then share it with everyone involved. Applying my own rota management skills, I scheduled our days into hourly slots, assigning each department specific topics to cover. That way, everyone knew their role and no time was lost.

The success of last year’s event means we’ll definitely be involved again. Next time, we plan to substitute half a day’s contact time for direct discussions about how to embed each day’s learnings into the curriculum. Further down the line, we also have the capacity to host sessions more than once a year.

What can you do?

For any Enterprise Advisers questioning how to deepen their careers engagement without spending more time away from work, I’d encourage one thing: give Teacher Encounters a go.

Most of us aren’t used to managing young people in our day jobs, but delivering a workplace experience to adults is perhaps more within all of our comfort zones. This strategy works in the long-term, too: by directly influencing teachers on employability today, we can empower them to share their newfound knowledge with young people for the rest of their careers.

Blog by Duncan Toms, Enterprise Adviser and General Manager – The Green House Sussex.

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