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Positive role models for work and employment

Positive role models for work have a big impact on young people: opening up their minds to different employment opportunities. Adults with varied jobs and work ethics can speak with young people of their work and have 1-1 sessions at their workplace to show what employment opportunities are possible. I used to run a positive role model programme in London. It was targeted at young people, using positive role models of similar ethnic and cultural background to speak about their work. I've seen young people visibly change, and be more encouraged to apply for work placements. Some have said that they used to think City jobs were not for them, but having visited the place and spoken with the role models, they realised that they could do it

Photo of Khin Tye
27 16

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The MERLIN programme (not operational anymore) used to be run by Business in the Community in London. I was the programme manager. I was inspired by positive role models myself and realised that young people could open up their thinking for more varied jobs by meeting positive role models in employment and with skills that the young people or career counselors might not have even thought of themselves. 

The programme runs on a membership of many businesses who provide their staff as volunteers to speak about their jobs. Schools sign up to have the role models speak at the school, and help with work-related sessions. The more successful activities are the students' visits to the workplace. The students meet the staff and also 'play a game' to understand how the industry functions. 

The success is not just about staff speaking about their jobs. The role models need to be themselves positive, and enthusiastic about their work to be able to transmit the positivity.  Students know the real deal and can detect imposters or worse get turned off.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Hi Khin, we'd love it if you might chime in on this idea posted by an awesome 16 year old high school student: https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-employment-pathways/ideas/real-world-challenges-visit-the-classroom (I've also sent him to your post here to see if there's learnings which will help him develop his idea further)

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Photo of Shane Zhao

Hi Khin, I featured your contribution in my recent blog post. Check it out here: https://openideo.com/blog/youth-employment-challenge-community-ambassador-update-2

I'm loving the collaborative exchanges that are taking place here! Looking forward to where the ideas brewing here might go in the next phase!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Awesome share, Khin! When I was at design school, we had interesting industry players come and speak every Friday – and it really opened our minds to possibilities for after we graduated (beyond our knowledge of the standard pathways) I always thought – they should do this in schools. And wow – MERLIN sounds like it was doing just that.

We're curious to know why it was discontinued? And what were some of the challenges involved? Be honest :^) – we can all learn from your valuable insights ahead of our upcoming Ideas phase.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

And here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks can dig who they're collaborating with here. Think skills, experience, passions & wit! Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge...

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Photo of Khin Tye

Thanks Meena for your comments. MERLIN ended after 7 years of funding and refunding by the London Councils. I guess you can say that it ended with the funding. The London Councils had also re-scoped their programmes with changes in local government during the economic recession.

About the challenges, I was lucky to be able to shape it in the beginning. Programmes on engaging economically and socially disadvantagesdg roups of young people can get too broad wanting to solve everything. Hence the challenge was to filter to the key aspects of the issue, and build a context that everyone understands and would be inspired by (employers, teachers and young people alike). Another challenge was the status quo and people wanting to be PC - politically correct. The first 2 years were an uphill climb as businesses were making comments that staff would not volunteer for fear of being singled out for their ethnic background because MERLIN was about ethnic minority role models for ethnic minority young people. Actually, many staff were happy to volunteer because they had similar values and were close enough to the young people to understand their values and cultural and family pressures.

Viewing the situation now, and having done some reading in my MA studies since I finished with MERLIN, some futurists think that there won't be enough jobs to go around. If we define jobs as work shaped in the Industrial revolution and modern age (eg manufacturing, service) , there won't be enough jobs by big companies to go around for an increasing population. Instead of looking at employment paths for young people to get jobs that won't be enough to go around anyway, we can build in programmes, soft skills, confidence, creative thinking, that the young people would be em-boldened (is there such a word?) to create work and income themselves, even creating jobs and work for their peers. MERLIN was not offering jobs, it was offering positivity, energy, role models who had opened the path, so that the young people could be inspired themselves and create the future themselves.

As some companies have lamented, schools were not producing young people wtih skill sets and soft skills that the companies need (there's a mismatch). Without getting into the multitude of reasons, I noticed that most schools and career counselors (when in MERLIN) were speaking to students about 20th century jobs eg accountancy, doctors etc. (standard pathways that you mentioned Meena) Hardly anyone spoke about games design, UX design, graphics design, etc. We need role models who can speak more 'new 21st century work too'. Of course we need the 20th century jobs eg accountants, but young people need to be exposed to different skillsets too. I may be misquoting a research study- its something about 50% of jobs in 2020 have not even been created today.
Pardon the long respones, but you asked :-) Thanks, Khin

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Photo of Gabe Miller

This is fantastic! I think there's an incredible value in seeing how others who were in the same shoes as the students build an empathetic bridge to success. I was an inner-city high school teacher this past year, and there was a major disconnect between many of my students' perceptions of success and how their academic achievement could, would, and should contribute to it. Many of my students had a limited scope or perspective of what possibilities lie ahead of them, and would settle for wanting to work in a factory or some other blue-collar job because those were the only paths they have been previously exposed to. Because of this limited perspective, a lot of the students would fail most, if not all, of their classes because they did not see the ROI of an education. "Who needs to graduate high school if all I want to do is go work in the New Balance factory?" I believe that the school that I taught in would have greatly benefited from a mentor program such as this, and that a re-frame of students' perspectives as cause of exposure to positive influencers in different careers would have encouraged many more students to not just dream, but realize that they, too, could reach careers previously thought unattainable.

For my students who did have great academic successes, many were extremely afraid to fail. I'm curious if/how MERLIN addressed/redefined failure, what worked, what didn't, etc? There are so many undergraduate students nowadays who are strictly motivated by the fear of failure that they feel underemployed because they settle for a job in fear that their dream job doesn't come along. Perhaps if failure could be redefined as an opportunity to learn & grow from an earlier stage in life, we could benefit greatly from the creativity and intellectual curiosity of the younger generations, rather than inadvertently inhibiting their creativity due to the stigma of failure created by societal structures later in life

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Photo of Guy Viner

Hey Khin- Loving your research post and your provocation to provide youth the opportunity to craft jobs for themselves and their peers instead of simply plugging into existing networks and companies. Glad to see you sharing your insights on the platform!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Khin – just a heads up that I just consulted my dictionary – and 'emboldened' certainly is a word :^) And as someone who has a job which didn't really exist 5 years ago – so much of this discussion really resonates with me!

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Photo of Sagar Tandon

Gabe Miller- you are so right when you said "if failure could be redefined as an opportunity to learn & grow from an earlier stage in life, we could benefit greatly from the creativity and intellectual curiosity of the younger generations, rather than inadvertently inhibiting their creativity due to the stigma of failure created by societal structures later in life".

We need to redefine what failure means and being failed doesn't mean we have stopped learning, it means lesson just begun. So, if we can create a system where for e.g. LinkedIn Influencers are interacting with undergraduates and School system embracing student failures, this help them to take risk, be creative and inquisitive in their approach.

We need a peer-2-peer platform or support system where students can talk openly about their insecurities, fear, etc and mentors/buddies/role models can guide them or mentor them.

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Photo of Khin Tye

Hi Gabe, Sagar, Guy, I'm with you. About whether MERLIN dealt with the issue of failure, it was left to whether the young person or role model brought it up. There was one of the founding members Patrick Clarke who talked about feeling stupid and feeling a failure in school because the teachers could not understand his accent, and he could not speak well because he felt England was so cold and his lips were blue from the cold and could not form the words (he had just emigrated from Jamaica) He went on to get a Masters and got a MBE or an award from Queen Elizabeth. The young men could identify with him, being made to feel stupid although they knew they were not ,but could not find the words to be understood. Patrick is also on the MERLIN DVD that I had mentioned, on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOQArSDFVIM

About failure and being wrong, on a more rigorous and researched support of what Gabe said to redefine failure, Kathryn Schulz in the book 'Being Wrong' shows how we have been conditioned to think that failing is wrong and to be avoided. Failure is part of the natural flow of life. The book can be dry because its academic research, but its wonderfully written and really transformed my thinking about being wrong and of failing. Anyway I'd recommend that book Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. We might be able to use its research as part of learning for work for young people.

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Photo of Sagar Tandon

ooo thanks for the recommendation of the book. I like dry books because most people think I am dry. And my English just sucks like Patrick so I don't know I can ever be successful in this knowledge economy :D .

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Talk of failure reminded me of these idea from back on an earlier OpenIDEO challenges: https://openideo.com/challenge/creative-confidence/ideas/smart-failure
https://openideo.com/challenge/web-start-up/realisation/my-fail-tale-prototype
Will be interesting to see how our community think about reframing failure within our current challenge topic in the upcoming Ideas phase. It's certainly a topic worth innovating around!

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Photo of Guy Viner

Great video, Khin. Would be great to see you linking it to your research post so more users can learn from it!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Tip: to activate links in your post, hit the Update Entry button up there on the right, then follow the instructions here: http://bit.ly/oi_link  

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Photo of Khin Tye

Oh dear Guy Viner and Meena, I don't know what you mean and can't find the Uodate Entry button, is that button to my contributed post? About linking the video, the failure videos is a part of and not the main key part to role models.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Hi Khin – the Update Entry button is just above your photo on the right of your post.

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Photo of Sagar Tandon

I totally agree with you if we can make these role models (intrapreneurs, infrapreneurs or entrepreneurs) more accessible to our youths then we can channelize their thoughts, aspirations, dreams, ideas into right direction where they not only follow their passion but also learn about business ethics and moral values.
We need more role models which can act as educators, mentors, buddies, etc. This creates a support system where youths can directly interact with their role models. I really like the whole concept.

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Photo of Khin Tye

I totally agree with you. Sagar. What channels can you think of to make the role models accessible to our youths? The MERLIN programme depended on face-face interaction of role models and young people because transmission of positivity and empathy required the personal interaction. It was a lot of time, and work and detailed coordination organising the school visits. We then created the MERLIN DVD (the video clip is a small extract) to increase the reach, but DVD cannot enable the return feedback and two-way dialogue. Of course social media is one example, but young people have already defined a space and use in social media themselves. We tried with a MERLIN facebook group, but the younger parcipants could not (or would not) see the MERLIN mentor as a peer-peer friend, and they were not using Facebook that much anyway.
I guess this is a question for everyone, what channels would make the role models accessible knowing that we need the personal dialogue, empathy and reach without losing the positive transmission.

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Photo of Sagar Tandon

I have an idea. I will take space to define my idea and insight about this thing. We all heard about peer2peer platforms
E.g. Zopa is leading peer-to-peer lending platform that works by connecting individual savers and borrowers, without big banks in the middle.
On Coursera millions of people are taking classes taught by faculty from the best universities around the world, creating open access to education that used to be just for the privileged few.
Quirky is an online community of inventors that submits product ideas and then votes on the ones they love. The company then picks the best ideas to take to market, covering the costs of manufacturing and distributing the finished products, making innovation accessible to all.
There are many other examples like zipcar, other carpooling websites, netflix, etc.
If we can somehow use this collaborative consumption model ( as term coined by Rachel Botsman) . Then we can make a really good peer2peer network which works on the principle of trust or reputation/trust as a capital ( so mentors and role models will get reputation scores on the basis of their mentoring ). It's a social network community where students can interact with their role models on virtual space or can ask for meeting in person if they want and depend on mentor's availability in the city. So, we need to make a platform where consumers i.e. students and mentors will collaborate on their own, we just need to make the right connections and make this network flow. And on this platform some incubation centers, social organizations can flow their webinars, events, learning modules, etc which help students learn more about themselves. So, it will be a participative community like OpenIDEO but not solving world's complex social issues but dealing with insecurities and fears of every student of this world. Because if we can help every student to dream freely and ethically, we can solve world's most complex issues. But for that they need proper mentoring and guidance and a school system which supports failures and experimentation.

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Photo of Khin Tye

Sagar, there is an online coaching and mentoring network called Horsesmouth http://www.horsesmouth.co.uk/ I think that dealing with fears and insecurities is part of the picture of the employment path, so not the whole and only purpose, but its also needed to be dealt with.
The next question I'm curious about is how can a peer-peer platform also retain a hierarchy of role model to young person so that it reflects the role model having had more experiencedand already gone through the learning, to be able to transmit the learning to a younger person. Peer-to-peer can flatten things out, how can a hierarchy be built but at the same time not separate role model and young person?

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Photo of Sagar Tandon

hmmmm that's a difficult question to answer. But see like this the person which has car, he goes on Zipcar and register it. So, lets consider that person as mentor, he/she has knowledge and experience, he/she goes to the platform and register himself/herself. And now the person who wants a car for a day, goes and register himself/herself. Lets consider this person as student. He/she is looking for a relevant person or a role model or a mentor from whom he/she can learn.

Yes I agree it still creates hierarchy as students can not be mentors and mentors can not be students. But we can introduce something like this every mentor can be a student and can have a mentor or role model from whom he/she can learn and every student can become a role model or mentor after achieving something relevant in his/her life. So, it creates a loop and hierarchy-less platform.

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Photo of An Old Friend

I like your model of progression Sagar. After all, mentors will be only accomplished in some areas but complete greenhorns in others. I think it would also help with students' confidence if they can work towards becoming a mentor as they learn and achieve more in the real world.

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Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

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Photo of Khin Tye

Thanks. I'm chuffed. Given the feedback and comments, a germ of an idea is starting to sprout in me. Perhaps we can have a skunkwork of sorts, laying out the structure, and making use of positive role models and transmission from MERLIN, and also using my recent learning from my dissertation on co-creation. I still have a few old contacts with head teachers and teachers. We might be able to get some volunteers who can transmit the positivity of their work, and maybe prototype this in a school in London. We'll have meetups to plan out a prototype. All still just a germination of an idea. Watch this space.

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Photo of Luisa Fernanda

Khin,
So excited to see you starting to think of an idea, you should connect with the OpenIDEO meetup coordinator in London:
https://openideo.com/profiles/houdababouda
And gather people from our community to form a team and get started with your idea.

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Photo of Khin Tye

Thanks. I've participated in OpenIDEO meetup before but organised by someone else. Is there always one official OpenIDEO meetup coordinator?

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Photo of Leigh Cullen

Truly awesome contribution Khin.

Mentors can be invaluable to young people, especially as young people prepare to enter the workforce. Mentors have the ability to explain types of opportunities that exist. This widens the playing field, and enables young people to explore ops they may not have even considered. And mentors can teach young people how to plan a career path and the effort that goes into it. And mentors can act as sounding boards for young people.

Great work!
Leigh