Catherine is like most 18-year-olds in the UK today.
She is “stressed out” about her career options and has found it tough making decisions about what path to take. Should she go to university? If so, what should she study? And what are employers really looking for in candidates when it comes to landing that all important first job?
Today, she got answers to her questions. And she could not be happier. “I thought I wanted to go into film, but now I know I want to go into TV. I’m going to go straight home and apply to be a TV runner somewhere” she tells me excitedly, with ultimate conviction.
Catherine is one of 45 students who spent the day in Sky Academy Careers Lab, at the media and communication company’s campus in West London.
Inside the brand new Believe in Better Building, the initiative – part of Sky’s efforts to use the power of TV, creativity and sport to help one million young people unlock their potential by 2020 – is unlike most careers experiences. “I was expecting a day of seminars, but it’s been so cool,” says Catherine. Yes, it helps that Sky is an exciting place to hang out (and you never know who you might bump into on the morning’s tour of the studios, with the likes of Thierry Henry and Jamie Redknapp in the vicinity). But, handed their own iPad to use for the day and aided by a 20-foot wall jam-packed full of videos, infographics and tutorials, as well as a series of talks from Sky’s people, this is also a chance for 14 to 19-year olds to get a taste of what it’s actually like inside a workplace.
Since launch last October, more than 1,800 students have passed through the doors. “These young people are at a pivotal stage and we’re trying to help them make informed decisions,” says Nishy Lall. A Sky veteran of 17 years, the Sky Academy manager says Careers Lab is designed to bridge the gap between the other Sky Academy initiatives that cater for primary school children and those starting a career. “We’re helping young people understand careers in a fun environment at a company they can all relate to,” she adds. And Sky knows the experience will also likely help drive brand favourability among both students and teachers that get to take part.
In a bid to bring down the funding barriers for most schools, Sky Academy Careers Lab is a free experience. And although Sky doesn’t see it as a direct recruitment tool, it does set aside 100 of its 700 annual work experience places for Careers Lab students.
The success of the initiative demands volunteer input from people across the business who are asked to give up their time to give mentoring talks to the young people.
Today, it’s the turn of Sky Academy Manager, Louisa Forsyth. Her ‘Journey to Success’ story – including an anecdote about her time as a runner working on the red carpet at the Oscars – goes down a storm with the students. “As soon as Louisa started to reveal that she started at the bottom and made lots of mistakes on her way up, the students perked up and they understand that these are just normal people, and it gives them hope,” says Megan Cooper, senior leader at Careers Lab.
The experience has three different themed days: media, business and technology – three disciplines Sky has a handle on as Europe’s biggest pay-TV broadcaster with more than 20 million subscribers. Today, it’s all about media and the afternoon kicks off with the group – consisting of pupils from two different schools – mixed into numerous groups of four. Their task: to schedule a Bank Holiday weekend of TV; to design a pre- and post-football match package for Sky Sports; or to develop two major news stories. Working in a team, they must negotiate with each other, stick to an agreed budget and then present their ideas back to the group, with many of the youngsters publicly speaking for the first time.
On the technology-themed days, students must finish a partially-completed Formula One mobile app using HTML code. Most of the young people have chosen to take part in the themed day that best suits their interests. Those that turn up for tech day are largely IT students. But their experience always throws up new career ideas, says Megan. “The technology days are great, especially for girls. They feel as if there are no jobs out there for them, so what’s the point,” she says. “But when they hear Sky’s women talking about working in technology, they go away thinking ‘there’s loads I can do and I don’t have to be an IT geek’.”
Today, less than 13% of those working in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) are women and more than four times as many boys study STEM at A-level or university. With Google set to spend $150 million in 2015 to reverse this trend by recruiting more women, it’s clearly an issue that needs solutions.
Watching his students so enthused by the day’s events is Lawrie Winn, head of media at Farnham College. For him, the day has helped his students – Catherine included – to answer the question most pressing: Should I bother going to university? “They have a real decision to make because it costs so much to go to university now,” he says. “Hearing from Louisa earlier was great. She went to university, but lots of people here at Sky didn’t – and she made it clear that that’s okay.”
The day comes to a close, and the air of excitement, hope and ambition cannot be ignored. As the students head back to their coaches in the car park, their heads spinning with new ideas, I grab 14-year-old Alisdair and ask him to sum up his day. “My future career has always been in the back of my mind and I know I must stay focused on my studies. But today has helped connect my grades with the real world.”
You can learn more about Sky Academy – and see stories from some of the young people – at http://www.sky.com/academy.