Embedding Employability in an Academy – A Case Study

Recently as a member of the Telford ASE I was involved in the designing and facilitating of a Personal Development Day for Abraham Darby Academy. Capgemini, the company I work for, partners with the academy as part of Business In The Community (BITC) and are invovled in a number of projects to help build a stronger community. The ASE were brought in to help tackle a particular challenge that is quite close to the hearts of many teachers and young people in education today.

How can the academy better prepare young people for life at work?

I wanted to share the thinking that went into the session, if you’re interested in seeing how it ran feel free to view the video summarising the day on the Capgemini YouTube Channel here

The first thing i want to make very clear is that this session was all about enabling the academy and its teaching staff to better itself, to grow on what it already did and do more. There were a number of questions that needed to be answered in the session in order to break this challenge down…

  1. Why does it matter that young people are prepared for work?
  2. What does ‘prepared for work’ really mean?
  3. What can we as a group impact and change?
  4. How do we go about making these changes happen?

Before we began though we wanted to break down faculty barriers and we wanted people to remember why they got into teaching in the first place. We wanted them to remember what their first job was like, how scary it was and start thinking about what would have helped them. To do this we created pretend camp fires for small groups to share stories, we created an environment that they felt free to talk and discuss and meet new people they hadnt worked with before.

Why does it matter that young people are prepared for work?

This might seem obvious but when you put this into the context of a community, a school, a teacher or even a pupil it becomes less obvious as school life is based around results and results are curriculum, academic and subject focussed. This makes it hard to incorporate other elements into an already busy school day and certainly distracts from other goals. Whilst academics and the curriculum have a significant impact on a young persons readiness for the work place there are a multitude of other things that also have critical roles.

To help the teachers see through this typical lens we asked the teachers and the pupils to complete a survey in the lead up to the session asking them questions about the state of employability skills in the academy. These questions enabled us to share with the teachers a current state view that was coming from themselves and their pupils as opposed to an outside influence or statistics that didnt necesarily apply to them. We followed this up with a clip from youtube called ‘A pep talk for teachers and pupils’ created by Kid President, we wanted to ensure the teachers understood the importance of the work they do and the importance for teachers to inspire and enable pupils to achieve. The video asks some great questions including…

What are you teaching the world?

Look for the awesome. Teachers see things, they see when you run behind the hall, they see when you’re passing notes, but they also see the person that we can all become someday; a writer or a speaker or Martin Luther King.

It’s time to be more awesome

We wanted the teachers to have intent to make a difference in their day to day working lives and help pupils be more prepared.

What does ‘prepared for work’ really mean?

Again this seems like a simple question but when you overlay different careers and university and everything else it comes muddied and complicated. We wanted to make it simple and enable the teachers to determine what it meant for themselves and enable them to create a shared view of this same point. To enable this we provided the teachers with a lot of different collateral including…

  • online research into employability skills
  • information on the compentencies that companies like Capgemini look for
  • asessment processes including putting them through a phone interview and group exercises
  • a number of their ex-pupils who now work for Capgemini

This part of the day wasn’t about educating the teachers explicitly, it was about providing them with an array of information they could engage with and allow them to start thinking more about what young people need from their education.

What can we as a group impact and change?

The challenge with this question is that most people naturally work with what they know and in the context they are used to as this is much easier, what we needed to do was put them in a new context. The context we operate in has a significant impact on the way we operate, it can change our perceptions, limit our thinking and drive a culture. We wanted the teachers to think big, we wanted them to break out of previous perceptions of what is and what is not possible.

To achieve this we set the scene of a better future, a future where the pupils of the academy are leaving as impressive people who are prepared for what lies beyond. We asked the teachers to tell us more about what this future might look like and specifically how it differs from the present. To ensure they took ownership of these changes we invited small groups to pitch their ideas to the rest of the teaching staff.

We used MG Taylor’s vantage points model (I have spoken about this model before on a previous blog) to help us to create a range of questions that helped the teachers to put detail into their vision of the future. This ensured that the participant group will think about the possibilities holistically. Given the nature of education and teaching we gave sustainability a focus for the conversation to ensure that whatever changes were suggested they were maintainable.

How do we go about making these changes happen?

Given pitched ideas this is the moment of truth, the moment the ideas start to become reality, the moment you can tell if an idea has landed. The big questions here are around how the idea will work and what needs to be done to ensure it happens. The challenge for most people is one of understanding how they will manage this new work on top of what feels like a full work load already. By this point in the event, the momentum had built and it can sometimes feel like anything is possible so practical considerations can be overlooked. It was important for us to ensure the teachers considered the implications of each idea cross faculties with people who are most keen to drive the idea forward and then work it through in faculty groups to understand who will do what and when.

We wanted to make a social difference and based on the feedback we received we achieved this. I hope that you have found this informative, if you have any questions, comments or thoughts feel free to share

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The 5 Is of creating engaging experiences

Engaging people in a concept or idea is hard, engaging them with work is even more so. The simple fact is that work in general is difficult, not necessarily because it is challenging but because it feels like something you don’t want to do. If it was something you wanted to do why do you need to get paid to do it? Whilst this is often the case, it isn’t always true, there are many people who love their jobs and the work they do and as a result they are engaged with that work and committed to achieving success.

I am sure everyone knows the famous story of President John F Kennedy visiting NASA, meeting a cleaner and asking him what his job was to which the cleaner supposedly replied “I help put men on the moon”. Regardless of whether this is factual or not, this is a great example of someone understanding the greater purpose of their job. It is entirely possible that another cleaner working in the same building having been asked the same question would have replied with “I keep the floors clean”. If I were the sort of person to gamble I would put money on the first cleaner doing a better job than the second.

The clear distinction between these two cleaners is a strong sense of purpose, the first cleaner understands why he is doing his job where as the second cleaner only understands what he needs to do and how he needs to do it. Simon Sinek talks about this in a recent TED talk on how create leaders inspire, which you can find here.

Now we understand the difference, how do you go about sharing the why so that people connect and engage with it? The model below was created with several of my colleagues to help us understand how to create such an experience…

IDENTIFY – a metaphor or story that helps you share your message as this will help people relate their personal and emotional experiences with the work you are trying to engage them with. It is important to consider the ramifications of using particularly emotional metaphors as the outcome can sometimes be extreme.

INFORM – explain work and the metaphor you are using and how it connects to the work that the participants are or will be doing. This needs to focus on why they are doing the work not what they are doing or how they need to do it. It is worth noting that not everyone will immediately and consciously understand why the metaphor is appropriate so it is essential that this connection be brought to attention at some point.

ILLUSTRATE – exemplify the metaphor by using one or more stories to show how the metaphor connects with the work. This enables the participants to start connecting with the topic, this can be done in a number of ways and doesn’t need to be someone verbally sharing stories. These stories are the emotional hook that will connect participants to the work so it is important to choose carefully.

INVOLVE – allow the participants to explore the metaphor and make it their own, provide content that enables them to start connecting on a deeper level with the story and the metaphor. Providing information on the metaphor will help on this front, whether that be through the use of reading materials or multimedia stories. There is a quote I would like to bring attention to here

Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand

IMMERSE – turn the participants into actors within the metaphor, make them a part of the story by immersing them in the action. The small things matter here, attention to detail enables the participants to enter the metaphor without thinking about it. This can be achieved in a number of ways and works particularly well when the participants have experience of the metaphor before as they fill in the blanks that you weren’t able to create.

As an  example of this I was involved in an event some time ago where we were trying to engage our participants with the importance of quality. To do this we identified the airline industry as a good metaphor for the session given the impact of quality on safety. We didn’t want to just inform the participants that quality is important so we set about creating an experience.

We used an emergency landing story to base our experience on given the potential emotional connection people might have with plane crashes. Upon arrival our participants were given aeroplane tickets and boarding passes and asked to check their luggage, and were sent to a waiting room complete with screens displaying current flights. When it was time to start the participants were ushered to board the plane where their tickets were taken and they were sat down in aisles complete with safety cards and air. Sound was used to signify take off and a comical breaking noise was used to signify something had gone wrong followed by the words ‘BRACE’ ‘BRACE’ being spoken over a microphone system.

The whole experience was concluded with a news report sharing the cause of the emergency landing being an overlooked micro crack in the wing. This helped pull the whole thing together and bring it back to the original intent, quality is crucial not just to a company’s success but also to the service provided and avoiding the potential consequences that may result.

I have recently seen a video on alternate reality gaming which you can find here which has caused me to rethink the level of engagement you can create using multimedia and game mechanics. I would love to hear about any stories you may have of experiences you have helped create or participated in.

Model created in collaboration with several members of the Telford ASE

The 6 Things Everyone Should Know About Facilitating With Acoustics

In the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) we use acoustics to facilitate work during collaborative sessions. I recently read an article on Buffer about how music affects and benefits the brain, I have used some of their insights here and shared my thoughts about how music and acoustics can be used to support collaborative work.
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Our perception of ‘neutral’ is effected by music

When a group meets each other for the first time there are lots of factors that affect how that group will work together for the day one of those is mood. Mood can have a profound impact on relationships within a group, the reasons for a  negative mood are almost limitless, bad traffic, an argument, poor weather, having to do other work before arriving.  This same negativity will effect their first impression of others they meet, for potentially the first time.

By playing positive music upon arrival we can attempt to mitigate the risk that mood can put on an event. Participants are more likely to see each other in a postive light with the presence of positive music. This will then enable them to form better relationships at the start of a meeting or collaborative session and work better throughout. Where we might usually perceive someone as being neutral, happy or sad music will cause us to view them differently.

Ambient noise can improve creativity, whilst, familiar music can significantly distract us

Whilst ambient noise can fill a background void that is itself distracting, people often become lost in their thoughts whilst sitting in a coffee shop with the hustle and bustle of conversations, cups clinking, the hum of machines amongst a multitude of other noises. This ambient noise creates distractions that make it a little difficult to focus on something, not too difficult mind, which “promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity”. According to research ambient noise needs to be at just the right volume too, too quiet and we wont be challenged enough to seek out the abstract, too loud and we narrow our thinking as we become overwhelmed.

Familiar music will cause us to become distracted from the task at hand regardless of the volume. The music triggers our brain to follow a new train of thought related to the music itself, it might be an emotion or a memory or just the song itself. We dont have the same triggers present for unfamiliar music so it doesnt affect us in the same way, in fact this acts in a similar way to ambient noise.

This knowledge can be used in a number of ways in a collaborative session to facilitate the work…

  • By separating different groups using distance or physical partitions you can change the amount of noise bleed between groups. Find the right level of noise bleed and you create an ambient background noise using the participants in the room.
  • By playing unfamiliar music at the right volume you can mitigate the moment at the start of any conversation where noone is willing to be the first person to talk because background noise makes akward silences less awkward. If you want less creativity and more focus then play the music louder as this will drown out other distractions in the room an enable individuals to focus on their work. Remember that it is a collaborative session and people still need to communicate, too loud and this becomes difficult.
  • By playing familiar music that is easily recognisable we can instantly distract people form their current thought patterns and get their attention. By doing this we can eaily get the attention of everyone in the room and direct them to what they need to be doing next.

Music helps us exercise

Research on the effects of music during exercise has been going on for years. Apparently listening to music does two things…

  1. Increases motivation
  2. Drowns out fatigue

This is critical to the running of any collaborative session, if you want to get the most out of any session you run then you want your participants fully motivated and working as long as you can without them tiring. Much like physical exercise, conversations can be extremely tiring and music has a similar effect when applied to mental exertion.

On top of this we can use music to regulate participant work rate throughout a session. The faster tempo (beats per minute) of a piece of music, the faster you see participants talking, writing and working in general. Obviously this has a limit, according to recent exercise ressearch after 145 bpm there is little motivation gain. This needs to be managed carefully or else you will overwork the participant group too soon and they will become less  productive.

So, in conclusion the 6 things everyone should know about using acoustics to facilitate work are…

  1. Ensure you start any session with positive music to ensure participants form positive relationships
  2. Position groups to create a good level of ambient noise in the room for all participants
  3. When participants are working play unfamiliar music
  4. Choose the music to gradually increase in tempo to encourage faster working throughout the session
  5. Choose music carefully to maintain energy levels throughout the session
  6. Use familiar music to get participants’ attention and distract them from work