By Anthony Bruton, Lead Regional Manager (London) for Career Ready
Shortly after arriving in the UK, Jasmine and her family had to move to a hostel. At the same time, she was studying for her GCSEs, as well as caring for both her brother and her mum, who suffers from depression. She says: “The first year in the UK was the toughest. I cried almost every night, sometimes regretting coming back to the UK. But at the end of the day I challenged myself and believed that I can overcome this for my mum and brother.”
Jasmine enrolled at Westminster Kingsway College to study A Levels in Chemistry, Biology and Psychology – as well as taking a part-time job. While at college, the staff spotted her drive and potential and she was introduced to the Career Ready programme, a new employability programme that was being piloted at the college during the 2018/19 academic year.
Career Ready works with disadvantaged young people aged 16-18 to prepare them to the world of work. We believe that every young person should have the skills, confidence and opportunity to enjoy a rewarding future. So, we help to unlock young people’s potential and level the playing field for them, by connecting them with employers and volunteers.
Career Ready, Westminster Kingsway College and a network of employers have come together to offer an intensive year-long programme, consisting of three main parts:
Last year we worked with 30 students. Of these students, 40% had received free school meals in the last 6 years, 57% would be the first generation in their family to go to university and 96% are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
The students applied for a place on the programme, and were selected by the college’s Careers and Employability team at its King’s Cross campus led by Carlo Liu. As often is the case, students start the programme feeling under confident about their abilities and under-estimating their value and resilience. Most of them lack the networks that would otherwise open doors for them or give them a helping hand, and many have difficult home lives than also impact on their outcomes.
As Jasmine herself says: “My daily routine was, I woke in the morning to get me and my brother ready for school, then dropped him off before I rushed to college. After college, having less than 40 minutes, I would rush to the station to get to work on time.”
Jasmine isn’t alone in having difficulties to overcome. Another student – Nataly – completed her GCSEs in the UK, but then moved to Columbia (where her parents are from) and found it hard to adapt to life there. Coming back to the UK, she found it was then too late to apply for sixth forms or colleges and ended up being two years behind her peers and in need of support.
Westminster Kingsway College students had internships with a wide range of industries across London (including Citibank, BP, Camden Council, Aviva, Ofcom, Peabody Housing and Comic Relief). Every placement went extremely well, with the students impressing their host companies with their knowledge, skills, drive and enthusiasm. But you don’t have to take my word for it: two students Catia and Omar have written blogs about their experiences.
What does all this mean for the programme’s participants?
Nationally, 98% of students on the programme progress to a positive destination (education, employment or training) afterwards, compared to the national average of 86% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But beyond the statistics are countless stories of lives transformed. Empowered by her progression through the programme and emboldened by her 6-week paid internship with BP, Jasmine is looking at a Degree Apprenticeship. Catia now wants to study International Relations at university and said: “The best thing about my internship was that I got a proper insight into what I wanted to do in the future, it has expanded my knowledge of the industry and put me on the right path towards where I want to go.”
And at Arcadis, students Nataly and Andreea capped-off their internships by leading an impressive presentation to a room full of colleagues.
Building on the first year’s success
The team at Westminster Kingsway College have run the programme for just one year and we already recognise them as a “centre of excellence” across our London region. The programme is growing and this year we plan to have 50 or more students on the programme.
To achieve this though, we need more employers (big and small!) to join our structured programme and provide as many high-quality experiences of work.
As Catia – who completed the programme in the summer with a paid 4-week internship with the British Standards Institution – told us: “Learning in school can only give you so much of an idea about the world after education. Real work experience mentally prepares students for the challenges they might face at work and how to tackle them. Career Ready opens up so many doors and opportunities that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. The most important thing is, it can really open your mind to all of the paths available in the future, things you may never have thought possible before.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.