STUDENTS from across the Forest were given the chance to explore a wide range of options for their future careers at the second ‘Inspiring the Forest’ event in Cinderford last week.

Led by the Forest Economic Partnership (FEP), the day saw a variety of businesses from the area and further afield pitch their industries to around 750 young people from five Forest secondary schools at the town’s Gloucestershire College campus on Friday, June 30.

It gave students the chance to do something that has perhaps been lacking in the Forest - and rural education in general - in previous years; to engage with professionals behind industry-leading companies, giving them the inspiration to pursue their interests, develop their skills and tailor their education to help them achieve their long-term career goals.

Local firms like Lydney’s Newspace, Coleford-based Suntory Food & Beverage and Cinderford’s BASF Metals put on presentations about the wide range of roles they have which students can aspire to, from factory operations and engineering to research and development and marketing.

Gloucester youth charity The Music Works, which is opening in Cinderford soon, brought virtual DJ setups for the students to try, while local media outlet Dean Radio teamed up with BBC Radio Gloucestershire to host an audio recording and editing workshop - another firm favourite with the students.

Local educators including Hartpury and Gloucestershire colleges and Cinderford’s AccXel Construction Centre spoke with students about the courses they offer and how they align with pathways into some of the fields the students were interested in, with AccXel bringing along some of their popular plant machinery simulators for them to try.

Employers from further afield like leading defence firm Raytheon and Quedgeley-based Cyber Security Associates designed puzzles based on state-of-the-art tech and code breaking.

FEP Chair Neill Ricketts, whose own materials firm Vesarien was another of the Forest firms exhibiting, described the event as “a great success”.

“It’s been a really busy day”, he said. “We’ve got 750 pupils here from local schools, they’re all very excited, very enthusiastic, and they’re seeing a lot of new things. 

“Their behaviour has been unbelievably good, and they’re really excited to learn. So it’s been a great success.

“We’ve got everything here from the NHS and care through to construction, engineering and manufacturing, we’ve had creative arts with Music Makers from Gloucester who are just opening up in Cinderford. 

“You don’t know what you don’t know, so when you introduce people to what’s going on - some of the cyber security stuff for example - they might not have even contemplated it, but now they’ve got a flavour for it and hopefully that will allow them to try and find out a little bit more.

“I think what we’re trying to do here is - as it says on the ticket - we’re inspiring people to think about the options that they’ve got.

“We’re interacting, so the pupils can engage with real people other than their teachers and get a flavour for what’s out there.

“So I think the more we do of this, the better it gets and the more people will buy into it.

“The plan is to have two of these each year to serve different age groups. There’s an option to do even earlier age groups, because the earlier you find out where your passion is, the more excited you are through school to learn and to achieve that aim of getting a job at the end.”

Forest MP and Transport Secretary Mark Harper was a guest of honour at the event and was given a tour of the exhibits by FEP board member Mr Ian Mean MBE.

Mr Harper spoke about the importance of Inspiring the Forest, along with state-of-the-art facilities like Cinderford’s “fantastic” Gloucestershire College campus, to the Forest’s young people and businesses.

He said: “The great thing about doing things like this, which is what FE colleges can facilitate, is the employer link, which is about delivering courses that turn kids out with the skills so they can go straight into work.

“Some people want to go down the traditional university route, but actually giving people a chance to go straight into work but do a degree level apprenticeship, with the employer picking up the cost so you end up working, earning some money, and then you come out without any debt, is a fantastic offer for young people. 

“We’ve got some great employers here today, some of our big names and some of the SME’s (small and medium enterprises) as well. This is a really great opportunity to meet them.

“That little taster opportunity and the partnership you get between the businesses and the colleges is really helpful because it helps the colleges shape the courses they’re doing, so that they get kids who leave job ready with the transferable skills as well as the industry specific ones.”