Last Friday I spent the morning at St Thomas More School in Eltham, participating in a careers networking day organised by Inspiring the Future. For three and a half hours 18 volunteers from ‘the world of work’ circulated small groups of students answering their questions about our work and career paths.
I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest. For all the hopping on and off planes I do, not to mention the networking within the charity and business world, I felt strangely intimidated by the prospect of talking to over a hundred 13 and 14-year-olds. I also half-expected them to not be that interested in us being there. What I got was a morning that was incredibly well-organised by Inspiring the Future and the school and groups of students eager to know more. Of course, there were a few bored faces and teenage boys more interested in rearranging the contents of their trousers, but mainly speaking it was a constant stream of well-thought-out questions from interested young people.
A couple of questions that came from every group were around qualifications and career path. It was really nice to be able to say ‘actually, I wasn’t that academically-gifted but I am doing well’. Yes I went to University and had the time of my life doing a creative degree I loved, but it was on the back of two Cs and an N! Do N (near miss!) grades even exist anymore?! I fell into PR because in my last week at University when I didn’t know what to do next my flatmate said she thought I would be good at it. I was. But what I really wanted to do didn’t reveal itself until I took myself off travelling at 26. Classic ‘find yourself travelling and come back to save the world’ stuff.
I am pulling my own leg a bit, and of course I didn’t do that last week, but actually I think it was important to say to the young people that not every route to success starts with 4 A* grades and that a successful career doesn’t always start with a string of formal qualifications. I didn’t shy away from talking about the hard work and motivation, but I wanted them to know it was about more than just being ‘bright’.
A couple asked what they could start doing now if they wanted to make films; their question was answered by another student who said she already makes films of her friends on her iPhone and edits them on Windows Movie Maker. Two days earlier we had trained a team from Oak Foundation in exactly those two skills. It made me smile that we are training 30- and 40-somethings in skills that 13-year-olds don’t think twice about. It gave me a sizzle of excitement for what storytelling will look like in another decade’s time.
And there were other spine-tingling moments too. One boy asked ‘what more can we do?’ in response to me telling them about some of the issues we cover in the films we make and another, of Sierra Leonean background, who simply said ‘thank you’ when I told him the story of Mile 91’s name. It was an uplifting morning. If you’re thinking about signing up to be a volunteer, do it!