Why do we waste the talent that we grow?

Nick Smith is a consultant specializing in governance

Wednesday morning represents one of the highlights of my week because it is when I have my veg box delivered.

Whilst its contents can lead to a mild form of tyranny over the next 7 days (I would love Wonkhe readers’ suggestions on what to do with cabbage after the 4th meal in a row) I also appreciate the fact that it’s delivered by Oddbox.

This is a company who find fruit and veg which would have otherwise been thrown away due to being surplus to requirements, just looking a bit different or being the wrong shape – three things that I have personally identified with at different points over lockdown.

The truth is that I hate waste. We are at a point of the year in higher education when there’s a danger that we will waste the talent of students’ union officers that has been built up over one or two years. Others will talk on this site about harnessing their political talent or project skills, but I am particularly frustrated by the loss of their governance know how.

We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got

By my conservative reckoning students’ union trustees make up 5% of all young trustees in the UK. Each year, because they stop being students or officers, huge numbers of these move on from their positions. They are trained, inducted and supported for those 12 months and then… nothing else.

Kate Roberts (President of Royal Holloway Students’ Union) reflects on the change she has gone through:

My journey into trusteeship was turning up on my first day as a Sabbatical Officer and fully realising the important role I played on the Trustee Board. I had the responsibility for the Students’ Union quite literally in my hands, in a way I had not anticipated. However, after the initial worries, I have absolutely loved being a trustee for the past two years. It has taught me about governance, risk management, financial management, and how to constructively challenge in order to achieve the best outcomes for the charity itself, even when that may have been at odds with the hat I had on when representing students. Overall, this trusteeship experience has made me realise that I want to continue being a trustee for a charitable organisation and has led me to search for a new trustee role alongside a new day job at the end of my term.”

I clerk 5 students’ union boards and am often impressed by the talent upon them. In the past few weeks I’ve had students ask questions about how the provision of a cafe could benefit the local community (noting the secondary trading requirements), what the impact of stronger reserves was on pension insurance repayments and how the mental health of SU staff was as we started coming out of the Covid-19 restrictions. We don’t need to upskill these young trustees – we just need to keep them.

Ruth Wilkinson was an SU President and is now Sustainability Lead at The Children’s Trust. She really values her time as a Trustee while at the SU:

I can’t tell you how valuable being a trustee was for my future career development, it’s helped me understand the running of large organisations, thinking about risks, financial management and strategy in a way that I would never have done before. I credit every career progression I’ve had to my experience at the students’ union.”

What’s next?

Capturing this departing talent has never been simpler. If you are interested in finding a new trustee role, the Young Trustees Movement can help. They are campaigning to double the number of young trustees on charity boards in the UK by 2024 and believe that SU Officers and student trustees are some of the most experienced young trustees out there.

Your support will help prove that young and diverse people belong in the boardroom.

Young Trustees Movement says:

We list opportunities at organisations who are open to welcoming new young trustees, as well as provide training to help you champion diversity on trustee boards. Less than 3% of charity trustees are under 30, but through keeping experienced and fantastic Sabbatical Officers and student trustees in the charity sector, we’re going to change that.”

The call to action is simple here. For officers and student trustees we want you to keep using your talent in the charity sector – recognise that you are way ahead of lots of trustees (let alone young ones) in your experience and get in touch with the Young Trustee movement. For others in the sector if you’ve been impressed by the interventions on your University Council or Board of Governors by a student representative then tell them, but also tell your friends on other charity boards.

Let’s cut down on the waste.

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