One office, 22 students, 13 Zappi people – a recipe for chaos? Luckily not, as Zappi’s Camden office recently enjoyed a successful partnership with career coaching charity Future Frontiers. Volunteers invited students from a local girls’ school to the office to guide them in a workplace environment. The scheme has a strong record in improving the way pupils think about school, and helps them to plan for their future careers. Across the board, student participants have been shown to be more positive about the future, with a 16% increase in work readiness, and many more benefits. It was a pleasure to use Zappi people’s business experience to benefit the local community.
When they came into the office, we were able to show the students a variety of roles at work. And the students showed us their ambitions; their career goals ranged across industries including healthcare, design, emergency services, nursery work, law, psychology, art therapy, beauty therapy, finance, media research, and film. The whole company got involved in finding professionals for them to speak to at the end of the course. One Zappi volunteer worried that they wouldn’t be able to find a Marine Biologist at short notice, but was surprised to be offered six contacts in one afternoon.
The partnership was a learning curve for the students and the Zappi volunteers. Read on to see how two of the Zappi team found the experience:
Nick Leigh, Product Owner
Zappi recently partnered with Future Frontiers to provide coaching to GCSE students from a local school, at our offices in Camden. Coaching was much more than I expected. So I thought I’d share my personal insights from the experience.
- Coaching can be a powerful team building exercise.
- My colleagues have hidden talents and big hearts.
- More people than you think will help for a good cause, if you just ask.
- The power of cognitive bias: The words of someone you’ve just met can have a huge impact if you believe that they are wise. Who people think I am can have as much impact as what I actually do.
I wasn’t expecting to get much out of the coaching process, but supporting the local community and giving something back is a good thing, in my view. And I hoped that I could make a positive impact on the lives of some young people with just a small investment of my time … or, actually, Zappi’s time.
The Future Frontiers career coaching course is well planned, almost scripted, taking the pupils and the coaches through a discovery and research process. The pupils identify interesting and suitable future careers. A pivotal moment is when they get to talk to a practitioner in their chosen career. Evidence has shown this chat to be greatly beneficial. Students who recall four such conversations are 5x more likely to be in education, employment or training than those who don’t have any. In the briefing it was explained that (we) the coaches actually have to find the professional experts. At this point, there was some nervous laughter from the Zappi volunteers.
After several sessions, one of my pupils decided that she was drawn to Beauty Therapy, and the other was set on becoming a Film Producer. Other Zappi coaches had pupils with similarly diverse professional goals. We had a Zappi group meeting to discuss how, in a week’s time, we’d find and convince an unknown bunch of professionals to give up their time to speak to random GCSE students. To my great surprise, we quickly clubbed together and managed to identify candidates for exotic professions which included a Marine Biologist and a Clinical Psychologist. Even more gratifying was that these cold leads agreed to give up 20 minutes of their time, and at a mandated time to fit in with the students.
Job done I thought. Not quite. The coaches were asked to present graduation certificates to their students, and say a few words to the group. I was genuinely moved by the sincerity, humor, and authenticity of the Zappi coaches speaking from the heart about their students. Sure, it was a little uncomfortable for the students, but I was reminded of the impact of a doctor delivering good or bad news. Their words, as an expert, carry immediate weight. I realized that we were the experts in this scenario. And we were telling these students, as a group of experts, that we’d assessed their chances of success and the future looked bright.
Back at the start of the process I imagined that I’d have a chat with some students about their aims in life. Perhaps take a look at their work, and maybe impart some personal wisdom. I really hadn’t expected that coaching would actually be a team building experience for Zappi. I was proud and impressed by how my colleagues rose to the challenge, and pleasantly surprised by the altruism of so many professionals willing to donate their time to help others.
Coaching is challenging but unexpectedly rewarding for everyone involved. I’d say it’s well worth giving it a go.
Tom Holliss, People and Culture
As someone who works on complex software projects and a wide variety of people and culture initiatives, taking on a couple of teenage mentees was surprisingly nerve racking. It was also incredibly rewarding. We at Zappi have “grown up” in Camden, a vibrant borough of London. There is a big tech scene, but also some of the highest rates of deprivation and social isolation in the country.
Against the backdrop of an increasing attainment gap for disadvantaged students, I was really proud that so many of our colleagues stepped forward to give their time and expertise. It’s not often I communicate with teenage girls, let alone spend considerable time trying to get to know them and helping them to make better choices. So what did I learn?
Potential is such a powerful concept and helping people to see theirs doesn’t have to be difficult. One of my mentees had exceptional creative talents, but lacked focus, direction and confidence in herself. Via just a few simple conversations and some (for her) embarrassing public declarations of praise, I showed her how I see her talents; that they are unique and something to be proud of. Taking the time to truly understand someone (not just their work-selves) and to praise the unique aspects of their character is something that we often neglect at work. The impact of doing so can be transformative.
There is an increasing body of evidence indicating that diversity is fundamental to better decision making and leads to higher team performance. This experience taught me the value in spending time with people who are very different from yourself for shifting your own perspective. My mentees were a different age group, gender, with different social and cultural backgrounds. The way they approach life challenges, and the resilience they show really blew me away. The experience made me feel more empathetic in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Last Father’s Day I received a card with the tagline… “When I’m older I want to be as funny as you think you are”. It turns out that it’s not just my wife and daughter that see me this way!
This has been a great experience for the Zappi volunteer coaches who have discovered many new things about themselves, and their colleagues, and made many new connections with professionals from across a wide range of industries. We can only hope that the experience has been as useful and valuable for the wonderful, talented young people that we met – and that we have boosted their confidence as they move forward into their future studies and careers. Roll on next year’s coaching scheme.