James Pearce: Rolls-Royce and volunteer school governor

To celebrate volunteers’ week 2021, we spoke to James Pearce, Portfolio Analyst at Rolls-Royce and winner of the APM Apprentice of the Year 2020 award. On top of his current role, James volunteers as a school governor, fuelled by his desire to help students with their career choices. James explains why he decided to become a school governor and the benefits and experience that young people, and apprentices in particular, can bring to the board table…

“My name is James Pearce and my current role is IT Portfolio Analyst at Rolls-Royce. I was a project management apprentice for three years, where I worked across the Civil, Defence and Nuclear businesses within the company.

I’ve been a volunteer governor for about two months now at Ashfield Comprehensive School, a secondary school in Nottinghamshire – I believe it’s the largest of its type in the UK, and the second largest of its type in Europe. This offers an extra motivation as the governing board can implement changes that can make an impact on a greater number of people!

What made you initially decide to volunteer as a school governor?

Having been accepted onto the Rolls-Royce apprenticeship programme, I decided that I wanted to share my experiences to help other young people with their career choices and gave talks at schools and careers fairs around the UK. I found I was asked the same questions again and again; what was it like to be an apprentice? how did I get onto the programme? how did I win my awards? what were the benefits? It made me realise that I wanted to do more to help, so I did a Google search – and governance came up. I read more about the role and felt I could bring something to the table and help make an impact on students in my community. I also felt that having recently experienced school life myself, I could bring a different perspective. One of my key motivations is careers support – our students are eventually going into the workforce and this role meant I could help support that on a deeper level.

People asked me why I was doing this now as I am young, but I thought, why wait? I don’t need to wait for 10 years to ‘gain experience’ – having worked at Rolls-Royce for five years, I have a lot of relevant experience, but I’m also bringing a different perspective as a young professional.

What skills and insight are you beginning to bring to the governing board from your professional background? 

Communication is a big one. Reflecting on my work life, as an apprentice you need to communicate with a number of stakeholders, from fellow apprentices up to the CEO, so having awareness of how to communicate and engage with different people is essential. This has been a really useful and transferrable skill in my school board meetings – having strong communication skills has definitely helped to increase my influence. I’ve also brought insights from a financial and risk management perspective that has been really useful when making key decisions about the running of the school.

What skills have you taken from volunteering as a school governor back into your work setting? How has this helped you in your role ?

My experience of being part of a governing board has given me critical thinking skills, to ask the right questions when being presented with information, which is something that helps me when I present my own work back in the workplace – it helps me have a better understanding of how I should communicate or explain information to make it easy to understand and digest. I’d also say experience of being on a board has made me more confident.

Would you recommend the role of school governor to others? 

I would recommend it. I’d say don’t just do it as a tick box exercise, think about why you want to do it and what you can bring to the role. I would suggest if you’ve got the time and you are passionate about it and you’ve got experience or a different perspective to offer, then it’s a great idea! You’ll learn life skills that you can use in the workplace and behavioural skills too, being able to influence, being able to communicate.

I reflect on my decision to join an apprenticeship scheme now and it has given me five years of incredible work experience, which has enabled me to volunteer and give something back, and both of these things, I think, will stand me in good stead for the future, in both career and in life.”

Interested in joining James to make a difference by volunteering as a school governor?

Read more about the role of school governor here