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.