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Ambassador Spotlight with Stephen Chapman

Our Ambassador Spotlight today focuses on Stephen Chapman. He has been volunteering with Form the Future for a long time, has a passion for engineering, and loves sharing his knowledge with young people in Cambridgeshire. Stephen tells us about his career and why he has been an ambassador with us for so long: 

Name: Stephen Chapman
Job Title: Chartered Engineer
Organisation: Self Employed, Digital Nomad

What other jobs did you do, before this one?
“It’s a long, long story. I had a goal that I wanted to be a Chartered Engineer. To get there the path took many twists and turns but I kept going till I reached my goal.

I hated school, as it was the wrong type for me, and could not wait to get away and start work, even though I had exam results that allowed me to study at university. Instead, I started working as an apprentice electrician. During this time, I was sent to a Technical College and here I found the education I had craved. The subjects were what I wanted to know about and I worked hard getting distinctions in most subjects every year.

I qualified and worked as an electrician in many forms in various parts of the world for many years until I felt the time was right for me to go to university. There I studied for a degree in computing and electronics. I again worked hard and graduated with a good degree.

I was snapped up by what was a small local Cambridge Tech company starting as a Graduate Software Engineer to design and build products. I worked my way up as Software Engineer, Senior Software Engineer and Senior Application Engineer.

During this time, I also worked at getting qualified as a Chartered Engineer, my original goal. For 24 years I helped do my small part to build this company and it was eventually sold. After the sale I moved to a consultancy as an engineer working on developing a product, and later I moved to a larger consultancy as a programme manager running many different projects taking ideas and with the help of my team inventing them into products.

I then decided that I wanted to work more on open-source social enterprise projects to give something back to society. Today I do many and varied things, still inventing, creating and fixing things.”

Complete this sentence:
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be an engineer to invent, create and fix things.”

Best piece of career advice you have ever been given?
“Everyone is different, do not follow, find your own path. Get to know how your mind works; this will help you understand what you are good at. Follow what you are good at, and this will be the basis of your career. Always evolve your knowledge to stay current while staying true to what you are good at.

When and why did you start volunteering with Form the Future?
“It all started a very long time ago now. The tech company I worked for after graduating had an outreach STEM program with local schools, which I was involved in. One of the senior people who worked for the tech company joined Form the Future as a non-executive director. I looked up what Form the Future was and knew this was something I wanted to be involved in. This is how it started.

I volunteer with Form the Future because I have a passion for Engineering and turning ideas into products – and want to share this passion with others and help them to see that, if I can do it, then so can they. I also have a strong belief that many can become high achievers if just shown how to get up the first step, which is where I can help.”

What do you like most about being an Ambassador and/or what keeps you coming back?
“I like to share my knowledge and experiences of work with others, trying to help them see that anything is possible; and that they should not be restricted by current thinking as many of the things they will work on in their careers has yet to be discovered or invented.

An example is an event like the Enterprise Day, where I get to help young people develop ideas into proposals and products. At the start, most young people are a bit apprehensive, but with advice and coaching they find that it is not that difficult, and they really enjoy the process. What stands out is the smile they have when they enthusiastically and competitively present their idea to the rest of the class/school. For me that smile – knowing that a few hours previously they were apprehensive – and now seeing what they have achieved, cannot be bought.

Those smiles are the reason I keep coming back, knowing that I may just have helped start to form someone’s future in a small way.”

How do you know that volunteering with Form the Future makes a real difference to young people (do you have a story you can share, that illustrates this)?
“Many young people do not get the opportunity to interact with people outside their family, friends and school groups. By interacting with Form the Future Ambassadors, they see that it is not that scary. There are many examples I can give of how I think I have hopefully made a small difference to a young person, here are two:

I was at one school doing Mock Interviews when a young man came in looking flustered. He sat down apologised for being late and folded his arms on top of the table and laid his head on them. Not a good start for an interview you may think. But I could see something was up so asked what the issue was that made him late, saying he did not need to tell me if he did not want to.

He looked up and said he did not know why a teacher had made him take art as a subject. Over the next few minutes, we explored why this could be and I worked out that the teacher had seen he had a flair for design. I then asked him to talk me through two different designs for a new phone, one a consumer product we could sell and one a concept phone that showed what we could design. He sat up and was a changed person speaking in great detail and with passion about what he wanted to see in a phone design.

I asked him if he had thought about a career in industrial design. He did not know what that meant so I explained that when I take an idea and invent it into a product, I might create the electronics and software for it but the overall design of what it looks like are done by an industrial designer. We chatted about ways you get into industrial design and he left me a different person, heading for the careers adviser to see where he could study this subject.

At another event, Careers Carousel, I was talking about my career path. Towards the end I asked one of the young ladies what she was planning to do. She said she was disappointed that after all the people who had come none were authors who could help her with the career she wanted to pursue. I asked her what kind of author she wanted to be, and she replied that she wanted to write books for children. I said I might not know about being an author of children’s books, but I could talk to her about being a technical author and what that entailed, and that in fact one of the technical authors at the tech company I worked for had a side-line writing detective novels. He had found he could not make a living out of writing detective novels alone, but working as a technical author – writing various product manuals and translating them into various languages (which he did find interesting) – paid his bills. This allowed him to go home and get lost in writing the next novel not having to worry about how many he sold. The young lady smiled suddenly and asked more about being a technical author. In the end, she said this sounded like a good way for her to move forward as an author.”

Putting aside the benefit to the student, how else has volunteering with Form the Future been a beneficial experience for you?
“I always say that I get more from the students than they might get from me. It is great to work with young people who have passionate, unconstrained ideas of what they want not only for their futures, but in many cases what they want for humanity and making the world a better place. After working with those young people, I always feel energised and know that our future and my pension are in safe hands.”

What would you say to someone who’s wondering whether to sign up as an Ambassador with Form the Future?
“Go for it, you will get so much out of helping young people form their futures by sharing your experiences with them. Try one event, and you will want to come back for more!”

We share the Ambassador Spotlight in our monthly Ambassador Update emails, as well as on our website and social platforms. It’s a wonderful way to raise the profile of your own volunteering whilst supporting Form the Future in a new and different way.

If you’d like to feature in our next Ambassador Spotlight, email Dawn, our Ambassador Engagement Manager and she’ll send you questions to respond to.

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Our goal is that all young people move successfully from education into employment. As a social enterprise, we are reliant on grants and corporate funding in order to work with the schools across Cambridgeshire. Even the smallest donation helps us to provide careers inspiration for every child. Click below to find out more about what your donation could do for young people in your community.