Engineering successful partnerships

by Meg Wright, Director, Engineering Development Trust (EDT) Scotland. Continuing our guest blog series featuring Informed Scotland subscribers writing on the theme Making connections across the learning & skills landscape.

EDT is a voluntary sector organisation whose mission is to provide STEM (science, technology, engineering & maths) activities and improve employment prospects of our young people.

I have recently joined EDT as Director for Scotland. Like all my previous voluntary sector jobs, working in partnership is key to delivering our programmes. However, this is the first time I have worked so closely with industry. My previous forays with industry have been with a fundraising hat on and this new role is distinctly different. At EDT, we work with industry to help them engage with young people in providing quality learning activities.

Industry and the voluntary sector need each other to help solve the problem of skills shortages, raise the aspirations of young people, provide equal opportunities to learn about career options and provide meaningful employer engagement.

It has got me thinking about partnerships: What are they? What is their value? What makes them successful? What can go wrong? 

There are lots of questions. One thing I am very sure of is that the voluntary sector is vital to delivering services and projects, and we need to raise our heads high and work as equals with other sectors. It is too easy to slip into subservient mode and approach others cap in hand for a hand-out. All too often voluntary sector organisations feel beholden to the funder. Yes, we have to deliver the goods. Yes, we have to meet conditions of grant. Yes, we have to deliver quality and be professional. But we also need to debate, negotiate, lead, develop and deliver as equal partners on behalf of our beneficiaries.

While the drive at all levels is to work in partnership, it is not always easy. Each member of the partnership comes from a different organisation, bringing their own agenda, culture, priorities and challenges. However, partnership makes sense for lots of reasons. It provides different perspectives, brings together people with a range of skills, knowledge and talent and shares the workload.

So what makes a partnership work? A lot has been written about the theory of partnership working and translating this into practice takes time and effort. I can only talk from my own experience; as I reflect on various partnerships I have been part of there are a few common factors in those that worked well:

  • The purpose was clear and we all had something to contribute
  • Time was taken to get to know each other and sessions were arranged to find out our individual skills, talents and cultural contexts
  • We debated – often vigorously, but with respect
  • We worked hard and shared the load. We also respected when other priorities took over.
  • Communication, coordination and cooperation were vital

A culture of openness, mutual respect and shared values goes a long way to making a partnership work, regardless of the sector. I am thoroughly enjoying learning much more about industry and being part of four-sector (voluntary, private, public and academia) discussions. By uniting as equals, all contributing, respecting each other and having a joint vision, we will make a positive impact on the challenges we face.

For further information contact [email protected]
Website:  Twitter @EDTScotland

Read previous guest blogs in the series, including those from SCQF Partnership, UCAS, UKCES and SQA.

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