About us

the ultimate interview


work-wise is an employer inspired and led charity for engineering, manufacturing and related sectors but now also working across multi-sectors, to support the development of young people so they have the knowledge, skills, aptitude and opportunities for employment within the Sheffield City Region.


Through the work-wise foundation, the private sector is practically and strategically taking the lead in helping prepare young people for employment and careers. To achieve this work-wise helps employers establish links, develop strategies and programmes and delivers training and practical guidance to make it happen.   


The work-wise foundation's vision is to be recognised UK wide as an employer led model of excellence that helps stem the increase in youth unemployment: addressing skill shortages that are a barrier to economic growth.


Our team

John Barber

Co-Founder and CEO

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Along with Jackie Freeborn, Janice and local business leaders John co-founded the work-wise Foundation in 2011 which became a registered charity in 2014.


John’s career started with BT Plc (Business Sales and Customer Services Management) before moving to Sheffield Chamber of Commerce (Commercial and Training Manager) where through his external representation roles he became increasingly interested and involved in regeneration and community support. His next role as Business Broker at national CSR Charity Business in the Community was a natural progression seeing John linking businesses to local communities which led to him becoming Regional Partnership & Regeneration Director before leaving to concentrate on business and education links and to establishing the work-wise Foundation.


John is a proud member of the Made in Sheffield Committee, the Cutlers’  Freemans and Education Committees, a Director of Ye3 Ltd and Director of the Employers Forum. John also chairs the Get up to Speed with STEM Steering Group.


Graduating with a BA (Hons) Degree in Business Studies, he is also a STEM Ambassador, Common Purpose graduate, secondary school Governor and has previously served as a Government approved Neighbourhood Renewal Adviser for business engagement. Also winning the New Deal Office of the Deputy Prime Minister National Award for Business Engagement in communities.


Proud father of 2 daughters, the eldest of whom recently completed her level 3 apprenticeship John wants to help inspire as many young people as possible to recognise their talents, be happy and achieve their true potential. Still unsure what he wants to do when he grows up he’s never really given up the dream of owning his own ranch!

Janice Richardson

Co-Founder and Senior Executive

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Janice has previously worked for Barnsley Building Society, Business and Education South Yorkshire and in various training and finance roles in both the UK and Canada. Janice joined the work-wise team in the very early days and has been an integral member ever since.


An experienced human resources and training and development manager Janice has set up and managed Training Centres and is a qualified NVQ Assessor and Internal verifier.


As well as holding her D32/33 and D34 awards Janice is also a CIPD member and is experience in counselling, mentoring and equal opportunities as well as change management within organisations.


With 3 grandchildren and a husband to look after Janice keeps very busy but still finds time for tending her allotment and baking for friends and family. When she grows up Janice wants to be Doris Day!

Julia Barratt

Associate - Programmes Co-ordinator

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With a wealth of retail, customer service and centre management experience.  Julia has worked for some of the leading high street stores and training providers.  Whilst working in retail she won several awards for achieving best store in regional and national competitions.


Julia played a key part in setting up the Apprentice provision at The Source Meadowhall. In 2012 she was one of the managers to join the AMRC Training Centre and worked with the team to enable the centre to open it's doors in September 2013 to it's first cohort of Apprentices.  


She has experience of organising events, inductions and training courses for large groups of people.  


In addition to supporting work - wise.  Julia works as a volunteer for the Dogs Trust Training school. 


Julia's family and social life keep her busy.  She has several hobbies walking, golf, gardening,baking and reading.   


She also enjoys dancing and recently performed at the City Hall in a show.  In October 2019 was a contestant for a Strictly Drapers charity dance event. 


She is looking forward to getting a Jack Russell and Staffie in the new year. 


When she grows up, Julia would love to be a dancer, supporting artists on stage.

Our specialist associates

Jackie Freeborn

Associate - Co-Founder

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Jackie, John and Janice co-founded The work-wise Foundation 7 years ago with local employers who were finding it difficult to recruit young people into apprenticeships, at a time when youth unemployment in the region was high. The consequence of this mis-match was leaving local business without a future skilled workforce and many young people being lost to the apathy and despair of workless. Her own son followed an apprenticeship and all this motivated her to do something about it.


Jackie is also MD of SkinCare Yorkshire Ltd, Director of YE3 and Chair of Women in Business for Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce. Values have influenced Jackie's career choices, as well as supporting people to achieve their potential. Previous positions have included being Chief Executive of Business & Education, Deputy Regional Director for BITC Y & H, co-founder of dis-ABILITY COUNTS, Assistant Manager SKILLSHOP. 


Jackie has received the ATHENA International award for her value driven leadership and supporting women achieve their leadership potential. 


At the age of 8 I wanted to be a dentist, because I was hysterical every time I'm went until a very wonderful dentist calmed me so much that I wanted to be like her....then I wanted to be teacher because my French teacher was so inspirational, and then at the age of 18 I spent a day with a speech therapist and realised that this is what I wanted to do...but I couldn't follow my dream as I had to taken the wrong A' levels. It shows me that inspirational people who are passionate about their work influence young people's choices about future careers and the absence of work related careers information can shatter them!

Alex Gardner


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Alex Gardner brings her trademark energy and enthusiasm into your business to help our clients reach their goals.  She brings her extensive experience in retail and hospitality alongside her wide range of skills in employability, recruitment, training, sales and business development to support ambitious small businesses take that crucial leap to the next stage.  Alex thrives on bringing teams together to be the best they can be, whilst focusing on their customer’s experience.


In addition to her role with the work-wise Foundation, she has an exciting portfolio of retained clients which currently span multi-award winning businesses like The Great Escape and Keep your Fork and many others on an ad-hoc basis. She is also a trustee of Kids Around The World Charity. She enjoys the diversity of her client base where she can bring focus, organisation and ultimately, profitability. Alex specialises in troubleshooting operations in need of a fresh approach and also in the opening of new retail sites where attention to detail is paramount.


Her love of ‘the customer experience’ came during her seven years in St Ives, Cornwall whilst she worked within the hospitality industry.  Upon her return to Sheffield in 1999, Alex co-founded Proper Pasty Company Ltd and took one company owned shop to 5 franchise shops within 5 years.  

Jane Miles

Associate – Education Specialist

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Jane has worked in the field of education all her life. Starting her career as a Food Technology teacher, progressing to Head of Department, a member of the senior leadership team and then as Head Teacher. Jane now works as a consultant supporting the work-wise foundation whilst also working in the Education Faculty at Sheffield Hallam University. For 4 years Jane was a trustee of the Children's Food Trust, something very close to her heart.


Family life is very important to Jane. She has two daughters and loves spending time with them at their homes in Bristol and North Wales along with her husband Peter. 


When she grows up she wants to continue to support young people and remain happy and healthy! 

Jen Wall

Education and Research Consultant

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Jen started her career in education as a language teacher in a Rotherham secondary school where she mentored trainee teachers and became passionate about Enterprise Education. She developed a comprehensive programme for all students to help them develop their transferable skills and prepare them for life after school. She was the first teacher in Yorkshire to be awarded the National Enterprise Teacher Award and the first school in Yorkshire to receive the National Enterprise School Award.


Jen decided to further this work through working on an EU educational research project which is developing a new approach to Enterprise Education as well as providing a range of educational events locally with Wentworth Elsecar Great Place.


Jen always wants to improve how she can support young people for their future so she undertook an MA in Teaching and Learning and is now completing a Masters in Research, focusing on educational research. She uses this combination of practice and theory to develop innovative ways to enhance and enrich school curricula so young people have a holistic experience and become more able to face the ever-changing challenges of the 21st century.


In her free time Jen loves hiking, snowboarding and travelling with her husband, playing the flute and going to the gym. Her little cat Poppy keeps her busy and when she grows up she wants to be a pet detective! 

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