Don’t be deterred by contractual obligations

Employers – Are you thinking about starting a placement scheme? Great! Are you worrying about the long-term commitment? Don’t!

Organisations considering running a program of undergraduate placements sometimes worry that it will be a long-term commitment. Such fear can completely destroy any prospect of creating a placement scheme. It’s good to remember that these things don’t have to last forever.

Man Signing Contract

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Got a round hole? Find a round peg.

As I wrote last year, mentors do an important job. Many organisations have excellent schemes for apprentices or graduate trainees and they deliver tremendous results. They have carefully planned development programmes, run by the best people. And they make adjustments when things change, as they surely do, over the years.

But some organisations don’t enjoy the same success despite their best intentions. It isn’t always immediately obvious why they under-deliver. The long timescales inherent in personal and professional development programmes don’t help. But one of the reasons is that the wrong people are involved.

Helping others isn’t for everyone. Some don’t enjoy it; they don’t see the value; or they don’t have the patience. Whatever the reason, some just aren’t cut out for it.

Square Peg Round Hole

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It’s not what you know…

I recently ran an employability session at a secondary school. One of the themes of the day was about what students can do to make themselves more attractive to prospective employers.

Many of the students saw themselves as a trainee Superman or Superwoman – eventually capable of everything, knowing everything. They saw their time now at school and their future time at college or university as being a time for learning everything they needed – forever. And that somehow if they didn’t learn it now, they’d never do so.

Sponge2

 

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News just in – “I’m not a clever man” says King George V

I came across a great quote attributed to King George V who reigned from 1910 to 1936.

I am not a clever man, but if I had not picked up something from all the brains I’ve met I’d be an idiot“.

I don’t know the context in which he said this, but it makes so much sense to me.King George V banner Continue reading

Opportunity

Following the sad news of the death of Neil Armstrong, we have been reminded about the courage of those astronauts who were part of the lunar programme in the sixties and seventies. We’ve re-lived the moments of the first landing, and heard of the tremendous effects on the personal lives of many of the astronauts.

One story which seems to me particularly relevant is the Commencement Address in 2005 which Armstrong gave to the University of Southern California. The full transcript is here: http://www.usc.edu/dept/pubrel/specialevents/commencement/documents/PastSpeeches-Armstrong.pdf

It is a brilliant address, full of inspiration for those lucky graduates of USC who will have been far too young to witness the events which brought fame to Armstrong, but who will nevertheless recognise instantly his name and accomplishments. The address contained the following paragraph:

What an important message: Graduation marks the start of continuous change and opportunity which will arise. I started to think about opportunity and graduates, and the following themes emerged:

1. Take it!
You will never know the outcome unless you take the opportunity. It might bring a positive change – great news! If the immediate outcome is negative, then at least you know and can close-off that particular avenue in the future. You never know when (if) it will ever present itself again, so take it when you can.

2. Confidence
When we try something new, take an opportunity, we learn something about ourselves. We learn that we’re actually much more resilient than we’d previously imagined. Trying something new – whether it results in success or failure – teaches us that we’re capable of surviving both. It gives us the confidence to take further opportunities in the future as our personal comfort zones expand.

3. Personal growth
Whether we succeed or fail, we grow from our endeavours. We usually learn more from our failures than our successes. Either way, opportunities deliver personal growth.

4. The effect on others
When those around us see us taking opportunities, growing in confidence, learning and becoming bigger people, we affect those around us. They see the change in us and feel encouraged to do the same themselves. It also becomes an invitation to give us more opportunity, to further stretch us.

5. It differentiates us
There are always people who will pass up every opportunity, and by taking it ourselves we differentiate ourselves from them. It sets us apart, and gives us an advantage.

6. It’s not just about being in the right place at the right time
Right place, right time can be hugely advantageous. But unless we do the right thing at that time, we’re passing up an opportunity. Entrepreneurs are the very embodiment of this – they actually do something with the opportunity when it arises.

7. Give others an opportunity
We owe it to others to provide opportunities wherever possible. It is important to create opportunities for others to learn, grow, stand out. Whether that is through work experience, a try-out of a sport or hobby, a job rotation or even a potential promotion, give others an opportunity – you never know what will result.

Neil Armstrong will forever be remembered for being the first man to set foot on the moon. Today he reminded me of the importance of opportunity.

Early influences start (really) early

It is staggering to think how many of the decisions we take are influenced by events early in our lives. I’m not thinking of those biological, pre-birth influences such as diet, activity levels and audio-stimulus. I’m rather thinking of the post-toddler childhood and early school years – a phase rich in external influences and events which captivate, excite, motivate, engage, enthuse – or the reverse.

It’s not difficult to see where those influences come from. We tend to engage more readily with other people who are having fun and enjoying life, so we subconsciously respond to their cues on what is fun and enjoyable, further reinforcing and perpetuating the messages. Young children are surrounded by others of a similar age, and it doesn’t take long for a new playground “craze”, for example, to sweep through schools as children convince each other how fun and exciting it is. The young influencers spread the word quickly as friends redefine what is fun or “cool” to do in the playground – until it is replaced by a new definition from a different source. And there are plenty of potential sources, from role-model super-heroes (real or imaginary) to cleverly-marketed ideas from the professionals.

It is noticeable how narrow the range of role-models is for these young children. The “real” variety tend to be high-profile celebrities (always in the news, and frequently a topic of conversation for parents); sportsmen (footballers are a common favourite); popstars or dancers; or sometimes children’s television presenters.

An obvious attraction of these role-models for young people is that it’s easy to see what they actually “do” – they appear on the television or in shiny magazines; they play football; they sing or dance; they present funny or interesting things on the television. Most of these things are easily identifiable to even young children. Money is unlikely to be a motivator at this early age; the ease with which they can be identified, and the sense of fun is more likely to be the motivator.

There are pockets of special cases – the vet who cures a sick family pet; the kind baker who always pulls a coin from inside a child’s ear; the hairdresser who always gives a lolly after a haircut – people who somehow make a mark on a child for some reason, and for a while they unwittingly guide a child in the direction of that particular profession. These special cases are generally fewer and further apart than the earlier high-profile examples, and they don’t create as lasting an effect.

How many parents talk to their young children about their own profession; about what they do at work every day? Is it any wonder that children grow up wanting to be footballers, pop-stars or celebrities rather than accountants, solicitors, scientists or consultants? Isn’t it time we started to excite our own children about what we do? Not as encouragement to do the same, but just so that they understand the range of choices open to them. London 2012 has created a new group of Olympians who will undoubtedly inspire and encourage many to start a new sport. There are occasionally huge news stories which create an interest in a new field and inspire a generation – Man landing on the Moon; Curiosity landing on Mars; the development of Concorde; invention of wireless telegraphy. But we could do so much more to inspire the youth of today by looking around us now and engaging with them, rather than waiting for world events to do it for us.

The examples I used above were natural for me to choose – based on science and technology, they were early influences in my life. The Vietnam War; The Arab-Israeli Conflict; The Suez Crisis could just as easily have inspired me but I had already made subconscious decisions earlier in my life, and those major world events didn’t interest me.

For me, it could have all been so different (not necessarily better or worse, but different) had I been exposed to different influences. I might still have made the same life choices in the end, but I might have done that whilst being better informed. And being better informed is probably a good thing.

 

Inspiring teachers…

Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans

Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

… worth their weight in moon dust.

For me as a child, learning history was dull.  It wasn’t just me – I don’t remember any of us actually “enjoying” it.  It certainly wasn’t as exciting as science, or as interesting as French.  It was just dates and facts which had to be learned. Dull dull dull.  Looking back at that time as a pupil, I can reliably say that the only thing I learned about history was that it was boring.

But my interest in history has taken a turn for the better in recent months, with the discovery of Horrible Histories.  It hasn’t transformed me into a history-fanatic, but it has generated a degree of enthusiasm and interest which had previously eluded me.

Very heavy coverage by the BBC, with regular repeats at child-friendly times have helped create a buzz which has alerted my children to a subject which was so uninteresting for me, that I would have struggled to rouse even the slightest interest in them.  And it is quite obvious how this has happened… the history is presented in a way which is exciting, accessible and really interesting to children.  It’s not all about dates – it’s mostly about gory detail.  The books are written by Terry Deary, Peter Hepplewhite and Neil Tonge and cover every period in history in an appealing, easily digestible way.

There’s a lovely quote from Terry Deary: “If I had it my way, I wouldn’t have schools at all. They don’t educate, they just keep kids off the streets.  But my books educate, because they prepare kids for life.”  The combination of great source material (the books), the dramatisation, and the scheduling create a fabulously inspiring learning experience for children.  And the result is that there cannot be a child anywhere in the UK who doesn’t know the fate of each of Henry VIII’s six wives, something which could not have been said 40 years ago.

Anyone who has ever experienced the power of an inspiring teacher will recognise how potentially life-changing it can be.  Sadly not all teachers are so endowed.  I wonder how dramatically the lives of our children could be changed if only we could harness the skills of inspiring people, and channel them towards receptive ears.  What a difference that could make.

When is a good time to stop listening?

“Never! It’s always good to listen”, is probably the reflex answer to this.  There are always people around who have experienced things for themselves, and who are happy to share the benefit of their experience.  In the work environment, it makes sense to listen to those who can tell you how to do something, or how not to.  At home, it makes sense for children to listen to parents or elders – after all, they’re almost certainly explaining something for the benefit of the child rather than themselves.

Parents will have noticed this with children.  A parent can tell a child something “a million times”, and the child will still stick his/ her hand in the fire, or touch the wet paint, or fall in the water.  At the time, it feels as though the child is being deliberately disobedient but I ought to be more charitable… it may have simply “decided” that this is a good time to learn by doing rather than by being told.

I’ve no idea how a child would determine when is a good time to be selectively disobedient and to learn by doing – it might just be random.  But either way, the child should be applauded for this approach since the resultant learning will invariably be more valuable.  However in the worst case examples, the natural reaction of a parent might be to scold a child, thereby reducing the likelihood of the child learning the next time, and perpetuating the problem.  Exactly the same logic applies to adults.

If we want to encourage real learning, we need to encourage failure – “we should be making more mistakes”.  But that inevitably means we should stop listening – sometimes.