We’ve all felt that moment of fear when, on stepping up to give a key presentation, your mind goes blank, your mouth goes dry and you have to fight-back the desire to flee. (It’s not just me, right?) So, getting an activity to help students from six secondary schools across Sheffield improve their confidence in public speaking, to shape their character and enhance their overall life skills, was really important to me.
I’m introvert by nature, I know how hard it can be to take that step into the spotlight and deliver an excellent presentation. It’s a skill I’ve had to learn and perfect as my job – most jobs now – requires me to be a confident presenter and a compelling storyteller; to engage confidently and to inspire others. So, how to take the knowledge that confident public speaking is a key skill sought at all levels within business and come up with something fun and engaging for students from first to final year of secondary school. How to pitch an activity at different key stage developments, that by design could bring together businesses and schools, university students and business volunteers, to develop young people. And which would see each stakeholder rewarded in different but equally valuable ways…
I’ve been working with students from Parkwood Academy for over two years now, through our Business Class partnership, and I’ve always been impressed. Having designed and led work experience programmes for the last two years, and having engaged in numerous employability skills-building activities throughout term-times, it’s clear to me that young people struggle to confidently articulate themselves in front of large groups of people, or in formal situations. It’s not a confidence thing per se – they’re happy talking when in peer group situations – but an experience one, I think.
That was it – the hook. Create an activity that would help students realise the importance of public speaking, give them some building blocks for developing the skill set in a safe environment, and develop a framework to create positive experience without it seeming like they are learning at all!
Building sustainable communities is a key business imperative for Carillion so, centring our activity on a theme that would not only help build employability skills but also introduce discussion on a key business topic was ideal.
We based a fictitious project of Carillion starting a regeneration programme in their area, aimed at developing both pride in their local area, an appreciation of sustainability, and most importantly, team working and public speaking.
This had a really positive impact on students’ skills and overall confidence. And, it genuinely fostered real community engagement as students went into their local communities to interview friends and relatives, neighbours and shop—keepers etc. as part of their research for their presentations. What a brilliant outcome in itself!
The students’ feedback was universally positive, with 94% saying they felt the activity helped their communication and literacy skills. Very high numbers also agreed, that it helped in developing self-management skills and a positive attitude: what a great set of outcomes.
Of course, as well as it being the right thing for businesses to engage with students to provide real experiences of business and to bridge the gap between education and the world of work, there’s a hugely tangible business benefit to me helping with this too. Carillion is a large organisation and we have a substantial footprint in Sheffield and the wider Yorkshire area – both in our Construction and Services arms. We commit to enriching our teams’ development though offering volunteering opportunities, and we aim to support future talent so we can find our next generation of staff, managers and leaders: engaging with schools and their wider communities enables us to build lasting relationships where we live and work.
Our Customer Experience Centre in Sheffield now employs over 250 people in the Services sector and we’re growing year-on-year. We aim to develop apprenticeships to help young people move into employment, and we are always recruiting for talented people to join our teams. I know that by engaging in the local community I’m not only helping young – or older – people on their way into the working world but I’m also increasing brand recognition, enhancing the reputation of my company, creating opportunities to network and to grow business opportunities.
And, perhaps most importantly, we’re showing that Carillion is a great place to work – exactly what we need to be a recognised employer of choice and to attract the best talent to our organisation.