The need for normal

Written by Kerry Peters-Taylor, Programme Manager – Education Works

As we start having conversations about returning to offices, meeting others and volunteering face to face, the ELBA Education Team is starting to plan what this new academic year may look like. This planning comes off the back of a year of massive corporate engagement with schools, a higher number of volunteers than previous years getting involved, as well as a large number of digital devices being donated to young people. Last academic year was tough for many, but this huge level of support and involvement from our companies was a brilliant positive.

One of the learnings from the year, however, is that virtual can in no way replace face to face as a way to inspire, support and develop young people. Nothing can replace the gasp of excitement of young students as they visit an office and the lift whooshes them up to the 30th floor, the jaw drops as they take in the view and their delighted acceptance of pizza as they break for lunch. We can’t underestimate the importance of these reactions; it is the lightbulb moment of what an office looks like, what careers actually exist and, most importantly, the realisation that they can work there in the future, if they want. So many schools in east London can see Canary Wharf or similar from their playground and this is the first moment that the thought clicks into place that offices with glassy lobbies aren’t for other people, it is also for them. 

One of the key areas we try and support young people to develop in is Aiming High*; encouraging young people to see a goal they want to attain and planning a route there. All of this visceral and tactile experience of being in organisations’ offices deliver so much of the impact we hope to have in the lives of young people. We are clear that the face-to-face model of Education activities and Mentoring has additional benefits for all participants and best supports creativity, variety, rapport and engagement and we would be keen to return to face-to-face mentoring as soon as possible.

The schools and colleges will be very much led by whether the time is right for companies to permit students to visit their offices. As we know, some schools have not been able to participate in Mentoring Works or Education Works activity whilst the programme is remote and many schools have had to adapt their rules around communications and safeguarding in order to take part. 

Encouragingly, we have had a flying start to the academic year, with our first in-person event at Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre (NCS). On 23rd August, NCS welcomed new Year 12 students for the first time for an Induction Day. It was an inspiring session and amazing to see volunteers and students in school again, networking and learning face to face. ELBA helped organise multiple sessions for the day, with volunteers from HSBC, Simple Works and BUPA attending, to focus on Investment Banking, Engineering, and Health and Wellbeing respectively. The students learnt about the companies and future opportunities including graduate programmes and internships, then engaged in a practical challenge with guidance from their volunteer. Overall it was a great day, and wonderful to engage in face to face activity again- thank you to those involved!

As we wait to hear what our next steps out of lockdown look like, we dearly hope that the young people we work with get to experience meeting more of our wonderful volunteers and experiencing your offices this academic year.

*A skills builder competency

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