Prevista and Youth at Risk have a combined 50 plus years’ experience of providing the most vulnerable young people with the necessary skills, training and employment opportunities to support their social mobility and inclusion in society.
Both organisations decided to work on a more collaborative basis from early 2016 using our combined experiences to identify how best to equip professional staff and young people to navigate an increasingly complex environment in order to create an aspirational legacy for their communities.
In May 2016 Prevista closed the business for 3 days to give every member of staff the opportunity to take part in a training course. The course (delivered by Youth at Risk) focused on developing a new approach to enhancing the skillset of professional staff who work with disadvantaged groups by challenging thinking patterns and preconceptions. Prevista staff members were challenged to “get into a conversation that goes to the heart of who you are, the heart of who you want to be”. Prevista Managing Director James Clements Smith describes the impact:
‘Mark spent 3 days with my entire staff team and there is little doubt that there has been transformation across the business: I can sense this, feel it, but more important my staff are more productive, more efficient, more focused on the task at hand’.
Following the success of the 3 day training in June 2016 as part of Prevista’s ongoing commitment to capacity building delivery partners, we invited our delivery partners’ Contract Managers to participate in a similar three-day training course tailored to improving operational performance.
Participants left with new concepts to take into not only their professional lives but also their personal lives. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, after the training 100% of participants stated that the programme was either “good” or “excellent” and 100% reported increased aspirations and motivations and stronger relationships with their family, friends and professionals. Pat Edwards, Managing Director of Newtec said:
‘Over the three day coaching I took away being present within the moment is essential, ensuring past experience does not affect current (present) communication within personal, working or coaching context. I will be asking Uncommon Results to deliver this training to my entire staff workforce’.
Participants learnt the importance of listening to others, of not making excuses, realising that they have made a choice to work with their client groups and therefore excuses for poor performance are just that excuses. They learn to banish the word ‘can’t’ and focus on solutions. James is excited about the impact this course is going to have on our supply chain partnerships:
‘Mark has created a new sense of purpose, a sense that we are all in it together. The 3 days he spent with my supply chain was just so good for my business and for the future relationships between us: more focused, clear, with purpose and clarity’.
Representatives from key funding bodies such as the Skills Funding Agency, Greater London Authority and Department for Work and Pensions attended as observers. They were impressed by the quick change they saw in the participants:
‘It was really helpful to be allowed to return for the afternoon of the second day. It was very noticeable that the delegate’s mindsets were different than from the first session we observed on the Monday. We were also struck by how the atmosphere in the room had changed and how quickly the delegates had built trust and understanding’.
All of this work has made a huge impact on our partnership’s work with young people. It identified the essential role that mind set plays in influencing and shaping our interactions with young people. Now more than ever we need to invest in our practice so that we can support young people to overcome their increasing challenges.
Young people are increasingly demanding attention to issues that specifically affect them. Often marginalised from local and national development, they are especially vulnerable to economic and social instability and meeting their needs requires targeted approaches and investment. From the London riots in 2011 onwards our staff have seen more and more of the young people that we work with who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) increasingly feeling socially marginalised. This attitude is seen across all groups of young Londoners no matter what their skin colour, sex, faith is. They suggest to us in individual meetings and group workshops that they think they are not in control of their lives, nor optimistic in their outlook. As part of our initial engagement and evaluation of young people when they start on our programmes, around 40% have experienced depression, do not regularly leave the house, do not feel part of society and 68% highly doubt they will get a job. This undermines their ability to fully socially integrate and will have negative effects on their housing, healthcare and civic engagement activities. Our experience of working with these young people is that, once tapped into, their talents and aspirations are ready to be encouraged and developed even if they have been latent for some time.
We believe that at the heart of disengagement is an ingrained mindset: ‘I don’t belong’, ‘I don’t care’, ‘No-one cares’ or ‘What’s the point?’. To address, confront and challenge these limiting belief systems we have to deal with the attitudes that underlie behaviour.
So how do we do this?
We believe that professional staff in our industry can be part of the problem too in not supporting these marginalised groups effectively enough. For we too often (unwittingly) bring our own ill-conceived, judgemental views on young people and their challenges before we meet them for the first time. This will have a negative impact on our work with them. Youth at Risk’s Chief Operating Officer, Ellie Garraway, describes this as an ‘Unconscious Bias’. This is a subtle but pervasive problem, a blindspot, which means it is impossible for staff to see their own bias yet it shapes actions constantly. In this profession more than most we all need the opportunity to confront our limiting mindsets, our own blindspots. So much training focuses on the skills to do the job, but little is about the ‘being’ or the mindset to be effective and yet this has a huge capability to transform outcomes. This is especially important when working with young people who feel increasingly marginalised.
We can’t get rid of the ingrained beliefs, but by raising awareness we create new choices when it comes to our actions: what we say and do. We listen too, continually challenge ourselves to be present to what is being said by the young person we are working with. Too often we pay more attention to our judgements about what is being said or we are just waiting for the opportunity to give our advice or solution – instead, we want to enable the young person to find their own way. There are times when being listened to by someone who is fully present is enough to begin this process. We recognise that we have to challenge our own attitudes and demonstrate some process of self-reflection for ourselves to maximise the potential of young people. When we question our assumptions and the ingrained beliefs that sit behind them, we become open to discovering our limitations. It takes a willingness to be honest with ourselves – but we believe that understanding this is the best method for enabling us to provide the most effective support for marginalised young people who can have very limited skills, employment prospects and be totally excluded from society. The training delivered to Prevista staff and their supply chain demonstrates the transformational impact that this kind of challenge and self-reflective practice can deliver.
Once we rid ourselves of the limiting conversations which hold back our ability to make a difference, our approach can better enable and empower the young person to become ‘decision makers, not just decision takers’ themselves. To do this we get into conversations that go to the heart of who the young people are and the heart of where they want to be. We dig deep and support marginalised young people by talking and listening, asking them who they are? What do you really want from life? How can we help you get it? We are not afraid to ask the difficult questions and to challenge the attitudes of the young people too. Often they have bought into their own victimhood and need the opportunity to be back in the driving seat, they need a bar that is set high and then the rigorous support to reach it. When our own limiting beliefs get in the way: ‘I’m not making a difference,’ ‘they’ll never change’, ‘they won’t listen to me’, we then need our own support mechanisms (supervision, coaching, peer support, reflective practice) to enable us to move past these limitations. When we remind ourselves that our job is to drop the judgements and listen we can get back in the game of creating transformation where it matters most to support young people into positive outcomes.
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