Ken White runs a social enterprise called Youth Education Project (YEP!) which provides alternative education to young people from across Leicestershire. The young people that benefit from its courses are those that are excluded from school have been referred by the Youth Offending Service, and NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training).
Ken wanted to set up something that would make education enjoyable. For it to work he felt it needed to be different than college, school, or youth club, and therefore it needed to be independent and sustainable. The enterprise also needed to focus on skills that will help young people live independent, positive lives, and where staff had the flexibility to support them long term.
The courses range from essential skills in Maths, English and ICT, to vocational programmes such as Childcare and Motor Vehicle maintenance, to music and urban arts. However, the course that Ken believes has the most impact focuses on personal and social development, he says, “It is the development of softer skills that really provide an opportunity for the young person to create a new path for themselves in life.”
With a background in social work, Ken set up the business in Leicester in 2008. The business had a major overhaul in 2011 when it moved to a new site, a name change and a new brand. He admits that although it’s been enjoyable running his business can feel pretty isolating at times, he says, “As a director you sometimes find yourself talking to yourself. You basically have to resolve all of your own problems as you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off. It can be a real headache. Change can be frightening especially if it’s not managed in the right way, and I certainly feel like there’s been a lot of change to contend with in the last two years. Sometimes you just need to step back in order to put things into context.”
Ken attended a workshop on developing innovative Approaches to Diversity and Mentoring which was run by Professor Kiran Trehan and Professor Monder Ram in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group and the Enterprise and Diversity Alliance (EDA) which is an innovative network dedicated to the promotion of minority entrepreneurship. Backed by the British Bankers’ Association (BBA), leading policy-makers and professional bodies, its ambition is to ‘make diversity and enterprise everyone’s business ‘. The EDA is led by Professor Monder Ram and Professor Kiran Trehan of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME), Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham. Ken was delighted he had the opportunity to source a mentor via the EDA project.
Ken was introduced to his mentor, Adrian Philp, Client Manager at Lloyds Bank Commercial Finance and also a volunteer mentor*, in March 2013, by Christine Dryden, IOEE mentor manager. Adrian says, “When I met Adrian he had a similar background and therefore really understood that the business’ success lies purely in our success with the young people we work with. I was so relieved that he understood what we were trying to achieve.”
Ken and Adrian have now had 5 or 6 meetings and every meeting ends with goals and objectives designed to help Ken address specific challenges in the business. Ken has found that the process of sharing helped him realise that he held many of the solutions. He says, “For the first time since starting the business I have had someone to sit down and talk to about everything we had to tackle as a business. Where I have previously felt there were massive mountains to climb, by sharing the challenges with Adrian, and learning from his experience, I’ve realised that they weren’t as tough to tackle as I’d imagined.
“I look forward to every session, sometimes I’m shattered, but after 5-10 minutes I feel ready to tackle the month’s planning. A lot of things really wouldn’t have happened without Adrian’s support and encouragement.”
We asked Ken whether he could identify any specific commercial benefits of sourcing a mentor, he said, “Growth for us is measured by the number of young people we train, retain and progress and I would estimate that since working with Adrian we have achieved about a 15-20% growth in numbers of young people we have been able to train.
“Adrian’s support has helped me look at the business’s staffing, training structures and recruitment processes, which in turn has enabled us to work with more young people as a direct result.”
The biggest change in the way Ken approaches his business has been in the way he works with his team, he says, “I think I’m probably similar to other business owners in that I sometimes find it difficult to let go, but Adrian always says ‘If you don’t let people do it , how do you know they can’t’. That single change in approach has had a really positive impact on me and my team.”
There’s no doubt that working with a mentor has been great for Ken and his business, and he’s now very keen to encourage other business owners to do the same, he says: “For me it’s been a very supportive professional relationship with someone that really understands my business. I cannot recommend finding a mentor highly enough to someone starting or growing their business.”
*Lloyds Banking Group has a 20,000 hour commitment to train volunteers from across the company as mentors, from senior management to specialist departments. The commitment is part of a national mentoring scheme run by the Business Finance Taskforce and led by the British Bankers’ Association to help the economy return to sustainable growth by supporting businesses.