Every now and then I will be devoting a blog post to an organisation/individual industry (delete as applicable) who I feel is worthy of a special mention. I want to talk a little bit today about a fabulous organisation called the Career Academy.
I was lucky enough to come into contact with the Career Academy through my last employer, a large inner-city further education college. And the story of how I did provides one of my favourite work-related anecdotes.
A few years ago I was asked by a tutor to do some group work with her class on interview preparation. The college had just signed up to the Career Academy - they were the first year intake - and they had interviews coming up for their summer internships. All good so far. However, I turned up to find the most unruly and disrespectful group of students I had ever come across. Aided by the fact that the tutor had had to leave the session they were using it as the perfect opportunity to play up for the careers adviser (any careers advisers out there, I’m sure you are familiar with this situation!) It was a most hideous hour, made worse by the fact I had a trainee careers adviser with me and I was trying desperately to convince her that it wasn’t usually this bad. When I saw the tutor the next day to report back I told her that due to the total lack of respect I had been shown under no circumstances was I prepared to work with them again.
Fast forward a couple of weeks when I was approached again by the tutor in question, pleading with me to help them out with individual interview practice for their placements. Being the soft touch that I am I reluctantly agreed to help out and give them one final chance. Of course, in a one to one situation they were much better behaved - not quite as full of bravado as they had been in my last encounter, shall we say. The pack mentality had disappeared and the mock interview situation (and the nerves that it entails) had certainly brought them down a peg or two. I also think - shock, horror - that they had started to appreciate that if they listened to me, then I could really help them.
I continued to work with these students over the following academic year. I became very close to them. Something had happened over the summer, during their internships. They had changed. They had seen the opportunities that potentially lay ahead of them, if only they focussed. The immaturity had been replaced by social skills beyond their years.
I remember returning after the summer holidays and announcing my first pregnancy to them. I remember how genuinely happy they were for me. The whole class did”whoop whoop”s. I remember them inviting me out to lunch, as a class, before my maternity leave started and the gifts they sent me after my baby was born. I remember that the main reason I travelled from Hertfordshire down to my work place in South London with a newborn baby was so that they could eet him., And I remember, whilst still on maternity leave, making an exception to leave my baby for the day so that I could see them graduate from the Career Academy at the London Guildhall. Wow - how things had moved on from that initial group work session.
So what is the Career Academy? The Career Academy model is based on a number of activities designed to develop the participating learner - a series of ‘Guru Lectures’ (given by leaders in business), the assigning of a business mentor to each individual student, and a 6 week paid internship over the summer between level 3 Year 1 and Year 2, to name the main ones. It encourages the learner to think and act as a professional. It gives them a realistic view of what is expected of them in the workplace. Most importantly, it gives them an insight into how good it can be to become successful, and how achievable that is. It inspires them. It also teaches them, at an early point, the importance of networking in business whilst allowing them to start developing networks of their own.
As described above, I’ve witnessed at first hand the dramatically positive effects the Career Academy can have on individuals. Employers: please consider this and consider what you can do to assist the wonderful job that the Career Academy is doing. I know that they have to work very hard to get companies involved and it would be great if this aspect of their work became easier for them, particular around the supply of internship opportunities. Employees - consider suggesting the Career Academy to your managers. Being involved can be a great way of showing commitment to social responsibility.
At a time when there is a lot of media coverage on the amount of companies using work experience as an opportunity to employ free labour, it is great to see an organisation such as the Career Academy providing quality, paid placements that students are really benefiting from. Add to this the other aspects of the programme - the lectures and the one to one business support - and it is easy to see how they are giving our young people a huge head start in the world of work. Keep up the good work, Career Academy. Your efforts are not going unnoticed.
NB - The Career Academy is now know as Career Ready UK and can be found at https://careerrea.org.uk/https://careerrea.org.uk/)