When we started this project, little did we know what would be round the corner. It is probably unnecessary to say that 2020 has brought one major surprise to all of us and has changed the very way we all live, work and learn.
In the UK, schools/colleges/nurseries and many businesses closed at the end of March, which was known as lockdown. For Ahead Partnership, this meant re-examining how we could still reach young people with our employer engagement work when schools reopened to students, without being able to bring business volunteers into schools – something we have been doing for almost 15 years! Our team were undeterred.
In June, when lockdown was beginning to ease and we could start to visit family and friends again in small numbers, we began an exciting pilot of new activities that could be done virtually. We tested out our new virtual activities with business volunteers from a range of organisations (most of whom were working from home) and a handful of schools who were willing to try them out. These activities included interview practice, careers panels, speed networking and ‘EmployMe’ bootcamps.
As with all new ways of working, we had a lot to learn as we went through the process. But with the help and honest feedback of our business volunteers and the students that took part we were able to refine the activities, test the technology we are using to deliver them, and make sure that they deliver all the same benefits as our face-to-face ones. You can see a more detailed seminar of the findings from our virtual activity pilot in this video:
For Ahead Partnership, the transition to this new way of working has been extremely rewarding. As a social mobility organisation we are passionate and determined in our mission to level the playing field for young people across society. Although we could not have predicted an obstacle in the form of Covid-19 it has made us resolute in ensuring that young people still get access to information, advice and experience from local employers. We have now started rolling out these activities with schools/colleges with up to 250 students each time, a scale we had dared not imagine back in March when lockdown first began.
In terms of how Covid-19 will affect our work on the DesignMyFuture project, piloting and rolling out our virtual activities has been extremely helpful in learning how we can still reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people in our society. We certainly feel more confident now than in March that we have the right channels and methods of reaching young people to do our research and get their help in shaping this project, even if we can’t be in the same room as them. There will still be challenges as the restrictions in the UK seem set to fluctuate locally for some time, but we know that there are alternatives and new ways of working that will mean we can get young people’s input into the project and disseminate our findings.
In personal terms, not only have we all been affected by the restrictions on seeing family and friends but our colleagues too. At Ahead Partnership we were already used to flexible working and with five international partners on the DesignMyFuture project we were already working in the virtual space with each other. But it has been strange and difficult not to interact face-to-face for over six months, and there are small nuances and fun characteristics about meeting and working face-to-face that we really took for granted at the start of this year. Although we would dearly love to work in each other’s physical orbit again as quickly as possible, it is out of a greater love and care for each other that we are not doing so to ensure each other’s health and safety, and so that important projects like DesignMyFuture can forge ahead and continue to improve young people’s futures.
Lola Wilson & Sophie Greenwood from Ahead Partnership (UK).