Robert Turnbull has a longstanding relationship with SFEDI Awards and the IOEE and has a wealth of inspirational work in the field of enterprise and entrepreneurship under his belt. He is a SFEDI Awards Programme Leader for the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, joining its Growth Hub in 2014 as a Business Growth Advisor, as well as a Fellow of the IOEE. Robert’s work helps businesses to grow and prosper, and its ethos for education and opportunity extends into the community, with the organisation delivering SFEDI Awards qualifications within prisons. This month we spoke with Robert to discuss the social and ethical impact of his work, his family inspiration, and taking an unconventional career path into enterprising success.
Robert has always actively engaged with enterprise through his relationship with SFEDI Awards and the IOEE, dating back to 2009 when he worked for Business Link and undertook the SFEDI Broker Award. Today, Robert’s primary role is as a Business Growth Advisor, where he helps businesses in south Suffolk to embrace local and national business support, such as accessing grant schemes, training and developing staff, getting them the right advice to help them flourish.
However, Robert tells us that his path into the field of enterprise was an unconventional one, with ups and downs, health challenges and redundancies, and a number of twists and turns along the way to get him to where he is today.
Robert says: “It actually began with selling houses and being an estate agent – dare I say it! During this time I reengaged in education, funding myself through working full-time. I achieved a Master’s of Science in Strategic Marketing Management and in parallel I also trained to be a teacher and assessor through my PGCE – no mean feat with a newborn baby daughter.
“I got into enterprise support – which ultimately led to my engagement with SFEDI Awards and the IOEE – through a peculiar pathway in the boom and bust of the housing market. I was unemployed quite a lot and so went on a training course to get a bit more benefit delivered by the local enterprise agency around planning your business, and I did such a good business plan that they asked me if I wanted to work for the enterprise agency, but this didn’t pan out as they lost funding. I then looked at who funded the course and it was the local Training and Enterprise Council, so I looked at their website and got a job managing work-based learning contracts, and this started my journey through delivering workforce development, Investors in People, Business Link and Skills Brokerage.
“Unfortunately, 2010 saw redundancies when Business Link ceased, and at this time I also started suffering from epilepsy, which posed a whole new set of challenges. A former Business Link client took me under his wing and gave me a job as Relationship and Business Improvement Manger for an offshore renewables company, where I achieved notable success until redundancy struck once again. Think Enterprise | 17
“Fate took another hand and I wasn’t particularly well and couldn’t drive as I was still having seizures, but one of my old colleagues was now the New Anglia Growth Hub Manger and Suffolk Chamber approached me. He knew I wasn’t operating at my full capacity, but the Growth Hub and Suffolk Chamber supported me into work and to get back to better health and my cognitive norm, which was a difficult time.
“While working here we saw the need to do a couple of things differently, and I was tasked with rediscovering SFEDI Awards. With incredible support from SFEDI Award’s Bernie Patchett, I learnt, developed and benchmarked ‘checking’, all the way to the point at which we applied to become a SFEDI Awards Approved Centre, and then becoming an IOEE Academy. This was quite something for a Chamber of Commerce, and 2014 began a long association with both SFEDI Awards and the IOEE, and we all continue to support and learn from each other.”
Robert has been a finalist for both the Enterprise Support Champion and the Enterprise Educator at the IOEE’s Celebrating Enterprise Awards at the House of Lords last year, and has worked closely with the enterprising bodies. Robert has had input into some of the enterprise frameworks for his apprenticeships at the request of Nic Preston, SFEDI’s Director of Quality, has given presentations at national Growth meetings alongside Ruth Lowbridge MBE, SFEDI’s Executive Chair, and has helped to organise the IOEE’s very first roadshow in the East of England, alongside IOEE Chief Executive, Sarah Trouten.
At the New Anglia Growth Hub, Robert tells us how delivering the SFEDI Awards Business Support qualification internally to our Business Growth Advisers sets a quality standard that benefits its clients, but also how this process of learning and developing has a positive impact across the internal organisation too. Robert says:
“It’s about giving people the opportunity to learn and develop, to enable them to transition into other positions or to take on new elements of their job role with newfound skills, experience and knowledge. Ultimately this benefits our clients, but the process of tutoring and learning amongst the staff is a very enjoyable, fun and rewarding one too. I’ve had people who have never achieved any formal qualifications before, and seeing people get that recognition makes me feel so proud. Our dedication to learning has become part of our internal culture, but we’re dedicated to continuing to add to the external enterprise support landscape too.”
This wider landscape stretches far into all areas of society. Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive John Dugmore was approached by local enterprise agency MENTA around providing accredited enterprise qualifications in prisons for the work they were doing with Shaw Trust. With John’s support and MENTA, Robert developed a standard approach and materials to make it as easy as possible for inmates to engage and succeed in gaining enterprising skills and qualifications. SFEDI Award’s Level 1 Award in Understanding Enterprise was the perfect solution to support a transition into enterprise after prison, and the success rate was outstanding. Robert says:
“We ran our first pilot in partnership with MENTA, who delivered the training, and we assessed and managed quality and learner achievement. We achieved a 100% success rate, were awarded Direct Claims Status for this qualification, and have continued to achieve a 100% success rate, which has resulted in gaining ministerial mentions.
“It is now likely that we will move onto Level 2 and look at other qualifications, like SFEDI Award’s new Passport to Enterprise and Employment, which has been recognised as good practice as part of the European Commission’s work around an EU-wide entrepreneurship skills framework.
“There are always challenges and rewards, both personally and professionally, but the latter makes the former worth it. For a long time my health made things difficult, but it has progressively improved, my epilepsy is now in remission, and I’m moving forward. In my work I am inspired and motivated by seeing people’s courage, seeing them working to make something of themselves.
“In my personal life, my son inspires me so much. He has special needs, and I see him battle preconceptions and barriers to achieve incredible things within his abilities – he makes me remember how important certain things are to people and gives me the gift of innocence, and this reminds me that what I do every day isn’t just ticking boxes and working to systems. Seeing the social impact and ethical delivery of whatever I support, being creative, and giving people dignity and finding the right way for them to engage and achieve – this is what keeps me motivated and pushing to see more change.”