Sarah Ward, Joint Managing Director, Straaltechniek
Business leader Sarah Ward has been a Better Learners Better Workers Business Champion since 2014, working with Westfield School to support their focus on giving students the broader qualities and skills needed to succeed in life. Sarah decided to become a Business Champion because she wanted to help prepare young people for the world of work and inform them about the great opportunities in engineering:
“My role includes recruitment and interviewing. I have seen academically capable young people with no idea about turning up on time, what to wear or what to say at an interview. I wanted to change that.
“When I ask young people what they think engineering is about, they often say it’s dirty, low-paid work on the shop floor. They don’t understand that nowadays it can be high tech, very clean and is usually well paid. Not only that, you don’t have to be an engineer to work in engineering – there are lots of other roles in an engineering company like sales, finance, operations. I started in administration, then worked in sales and operations, now I’m a director. I wanted to open young people’s eyes to the possibilities.”
Sarah helps interview and select young people who apply to go on the Better Learners Better Workers programme, speaks to them about careers in engineering, visits school and provides work experience. It has been surprisingly rewarding: “When I go to parents evenings at the school, parents come up to me and thank me. I got a letter from one parent saying they had never seen their son so excited and communicative as a result of the Better Learners Better Workers activities. I think we need to change parents’ perceptions as much as young people’s – especially when it comes to careers for girls in engineering – so I feel I’m making a difference.”
Sarah’s company is a family-owned business with a proud Sheffield engineering heritage that spans 20 years, which specialises in refurbishing and strengthening major pieces of manufacturing equipment for the likes of BAE, Rolls-Royce, JCB and Tata Steel using specialist techniques called shot blasting and shot peening. The company also designs and manufactures specialist equipment from scratch. Joining the Better Learners Better Workers programme was part of Sarah’s initiative to expand the company’s networks and engage in joined-up efforts to develop a talent stream. She comments:
“At the end of the programme, I review students’ Skills Passports – the log where they reflect on their activities on the programme, what they have learnt and how they have developed. I can see how they have matured and how their ideas have changed. At first I was a little sceptical whether it would work, but there’s no doubt that the students on the Better Learners Better Workers programme become more confident, curious, industrious, and better team players. Not just that, I now see girls in year 10 who are interested in engineering. I think it’s working.”