Our ‘Raising Aspirations’ business event with the group of girls from our most recent Building Self-Belief programme gave everyone involved an invaluable insight into working life. Interestingly, out of all the women invited to the event, I was the only one who had followed a ‘traditional’ route of GCSE, A Level, degree, post grad, profession – and, although I have changed schools, I have pretty much stayed in the teaching profession for most of my adult life. On reflection, this has made me rethink the way we approach careers in school. Is the advice given to young people too narrow? Do we need to make more of an effort to make our young people appreciate there are a whole host of options out there? As the business women proved to the girls, traditional pathways are not the only routes to success.
The most important element of our Building Self-Belief programme is that we develop the activities for the group depending on the needs and requests of that particular group. It is a combination of what they have asked for, and what we feel would benefit them. For this group of Year 9 girls, we felt that they needed a stronger sense of purpose beyond their experiences of family and school. Most importantly, many of them had chosen ‘Future Planning’ as one of the areas they wanted us to cover. Over a series of weeks, it became evident that a careers event with a difference was the way forward.
What we decided to organise was a Woman in Business event. Business Durham, through Andrea McGuigan, hired us meeting rooms to create a business environment. Nevertheless, this was no ordinary careers event! It was much more personal and much more intimate. It was an opportunity for the girls to ask real questions to real people. We started with some brilliantly engaging introductions where the women, and the accompanying member of staff, shared their experiences of qualifications and work. Then, in pairs, the girls had to engage with each contributor in a carousel of interviews. There was no script, no social barriers, no emotional barriers. The women were open to any questions the girls had for them – both personal and professional. This was a HUGE undertaking for the girls. One girl said she was ‘shaking inside’. Nevertheless, once she had been reassured she presented herself with confidence. It is most important for the girls to appreciate that it is NORMAL to feel anxious in such an environment. What it instilled in the girls is that what is most important is to overcome anxiety, build self-belief, and confront, rather than avoid, challenge. They did it, they made us proud, and most importantly, they were proud of themselves.
Within the session we encouraged the girls to pursue their interests. One of the girls expressed an interest in photography. Consequently, she was encouraged to be our official photographer for the afternoon. (These are some of the images I have used in the article). On the day, another girl was offered a role as a young leader at a local Rainbow group. This girl has relished the opportunity and has already been to support and is now working towards her young leader award. She admitted that this was not something she would not have had the confidence to do before the programme. Many of the girls loved animals and would like to work with animals – Andrea, from Animals About Town inspired the girls with her talk about her various professional roles, but in the end, it was her love of animals that triumphed over her professional qualifications. She also increased her popularity one hundred-fold by bringing along a guinea pig for the girls to hold. Yet another ice breaker that engaged the girls and encouraged and improved their social interaction.
1) Careers is not just about finding and following the academic route in to work.
2) Young people must be encouraged to have a sense of purpose beyond academic attainment.
3) Listening and learning directly from people who have achieved ultimate success in life is truly inspirational.
Ultimately, there needs to be much stronger links between school and the workplace.
REASSURANCE: It does not matter at 16 whether they have any real idea about what they want to do in the long-term future! Adapt and change according to circumstances is the true way to succeed in life.
WORK: Get a job, have the confidence to get into a workplace, get some experience. Never sit in the house waiting for an opportunity to knock at the door. Develop a work ethic. These will be their strongest starting points.
TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION: We are in the midst of a technological revolution. We do not even know what the job market will look like in 10 years. Many jobs have not even been created yet. Young people can adapt and change with the market. They must take chances and potentially make mistakes and have the confidence to know that eventually they will progress and it will lead them to overall success.
Our event enabled the girls to see the bigger picture. It really helped them understand that they are just at the start of an extremely exciting time in their lives and they must see the positives in this. One particular message stood out. What is this pearl of wisdom? I hear you ask. It is, ‘If life is not going as you planned, change the plan.’ Ensure you reach your potential by being adaptable. Do not feel destined to follow a particular path without deviation. Ultimately, such a message is not exclusive to the young. This is an approach to life that we can all adopt.
Thank you to the fabulous women who gave up their time to support the event – such contributions can and do transform lives.
Our contributors were:
Dr Donna Petch – Social Media – The North East Hub
Nichola Harris- Valued Accountancy
Linda Lowther – Business Consultant & Partner – Advice4Business
Andrea – from Animals About Town
Andrea McGuigan of Business Durham