Be the inspiration – why mentors matter

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Could you inspire the younger generation to follow in your footsteps?

A couple of years back I found out that my daughter was doing a project about journalism at her school. Being a finance journalist, I offered to go into her class and talk about what I did. I found it really rewarding and the children seemed really engaged too. So, I was delighted to discover that there is a national organisation Inspiring the Future whose mission is to encourage people from all sections of the career spectrum to go into schools and colleges and awaken their pupils to the job opportunities available to them.

Inspiring the Future is keen to increase the number of accountants, bookkeepers and people working in related careers on their books. This is a great opportunity for AAT members to explain to children and younger people about their more vocational route into a job in money and the range of accountancy careers at their disposal.

The first talk I did to a bunch of 16-year-olds was daunting, because I didn’t know what to expect. Kids aren’t backward in coming forward and one of the first questions that they always ask, which none of your peers would ever ask you, is “how much do you earn?”

Fair enough. The trick is to use questions like this to springboard into a story about your career that they will find engaging. I do a little bit of homework beforehand, find out what a starting salary would be for someone following my career path and then, from personal experience, explain to the students what they can do to help themselves get a foot in the door. I build up to how much they could earn if they make a success of themselves and then tell them a little about how I got to where I am and where I hope my job will take me.

Inspiring the Future is concentrating on getting more mentors into state schools. Private schools have been encouraging their successful old pupils to return to base and tell current pupils about their working life for decades and the organisation hopes to bridge this gap within state schools.

It’s vital to give even very young children realistic role models explains Nick Chambers, CEO of Education and Employers the parent organisation to Inspiring the Future.

“Children as young as five start to form gender stereotypes about different jobs. The consequence is that, from a very early age, they begin ruling out career options for themselves. As they get older, many young people have little idea about the variety of jobs open to them. Their knowledge often is limited to adults they know, or jobs they see on TV and social media.

“Having the chance to meet people doing a wide range of jobs is a simple and effective way to open children’s and young people’s eyes to the opportunities available and the skills they need to succeed. It’s particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who [may] have fewer successful role models, either at home or in their local communities.”

Inspiring the Future has found that young people who have regular contact with employers while at school are more likely to stay in education, employment and training, and in general they have higher earnings later in life.

Volunteers can be at any stage of their career. “From CEOs to apprentices, from architects to zoologists, everyone has something to offer,” explains Chambers. “We work with employers to help them set up volunteering schemes and, through our online matchmaking site, we make it easy for schools to connect with volunteers in their area.

“Volunteers are asked to give at least one hour to visit a local school or college to talk about the job they do. The aim is to enthuse children and young people about the possibilities open to them, broaden their aspirations and show them how important literacy and numeracy are. Opportunities to get involved range from careers talks and CV workshops, to enterprise competitions and job shadowing. Volunteers can even opt to become a school governor, having a long-term impact on the success of the school.”

Anna Tobin is a freelance journalist and interiors stylist. She frequently writes for The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph.

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