What motivated you to work with Flying Start XP?
Personally, I’ve always loved the idea of nurturing young people’s potential, right back from when I taught sport in a summer camp in Spain while at university. I loved the idea of working with students stepping from education into the world of work. This is a time in their lives when they benefit so much from whatever support you can give.
It’s also important work. The question of how exactly we can enable young people to realise their potential in their careers is very topical. In today’s business environment, there is a lot of debate and a lot of frustration around which skills young people are and aren’t bringing to the table.
All through my career, I’ve come to see that it isn’t academic accolades and advanced degrees that mark out the strongest business leaders. The ones who succeed are the communicators, who know how to work in a team, who can put themselves in others’ shoes, and who have the humility, respect and tenacity to never give up. I’m loving the chance to put all these ideas into practice!
You’re meeting with lots and lots of business leaders as you market Flying Start’s business skills courses. What do they tell you about their young employees?
As we’ve grown and developed Flying Start XP, I’ve attended many meetings where I’ve heard senior business people talk about the gap between their own expectations and what young employees are offering – be they graduates or apprentices. I tell them this is a problem that can be solved, and it’s easier than you might think.
Everyone wants to succeed and our collective experience mentoring, and managing young people tells us that if your approach is properly thought through, you will get to those ‘lightbulb moments’, where young people switch on to what’s needed and what they’re capable of. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone has natural potential: it really is about finding the right way to release it.
There’s so much literature around about motivation, productivity and skills. Where have you found the ideas that really make sense to you?
I’m a lifelong sports fan: a career highlight was working on the Rugby World Cup 2015. We were lucky enough to have the team managers come to our office to talk. They all agreed that it is crucial not to forget that a team is composed of individuals: it will not perform until each member achieves peak physical and psychological development. Managers and coaches dedicate huge amounts of time to making sure that happens.
Similarly, in the world of business, it makes total sense to take the time to allow a company’s youngest employees to understand the skills of those around them and to understand how to bring their own offering to the table, to enhance and strengthen the team. For this to happen, new recruits need to have confidence and self-awareness, to really believe in what they have to offer.
Lots of young people seem to have a difficult first year or so in the world of work, and managers seem to feel that they’re not bringing the right skill sets. What’s your guess at the causes of all this?
Lots of people talk about Gen Z and Millennials having a whole different attitude to life, but I think it’s more obvious than that. Young people are part of an educational system that often prizes academic achievement over everything else. There is not much incentive for them to learn to work with other people to build something together.
It may indeed be really useful to understand organic chemistry, but it’s equally important to think about how to approach other people, about empathy, and about making and building human relationships, preferably face to face!. This seems to be a missing link that frustrates so many managers out there.
The academic pressure on students is huge. Those who aren’t born academics often suffer confidence issues and have low expectations of themselves, and don’t set the right, or indeed any goals at all.
Those who do succeed in the education system can demonstrate academic ability, but they don’t have the softer skills that businesses need. They’ve spent years doing the incredible amount of work it takes to get the best results, but not much time on self-awareness or working with other people.
What’s needed is a change of mindset, a different way of thinking: students need help to make the transition from the ‘tell, tell’ world of education into the ‘do, do’ world of business.
Changing mindsets sounds like a pretty big job?
It’s actually easy to achieve a quick transformation when it comes to getting young people work-ready. Our courses create a space free from pressure, where it’s OK to take risks and get things wrong. We get our students to take a hard, dispassionate look at themselves; to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They learn the confidence that comes with really knowing they have something concrete to offer.
We build on this by giving them challenges and practical tasks focused on what business actually involves: negotiation, presentations, problem-solving, teamwork, good communication. Our students come out bursting with enthusiasm and actually can’t help but make a good impression straight off. It’s inspiring to watch!
What have been the highlights of your first year with Flying Start XP?
I’ve really enjoyed developing our apprenticeship offering and learning about that whole world. The on-the-job learning you get as an apprentice seems so powerful for many young people, and a significant alternative to university.
The Government’s new apprenticeship levy is a great opportunity to deliver high-quality training. If it works, it could help create a stronger next generation of business leaders in this country. It’s a chance for companies to really take a step back and think about where training input could make a difference.
I hope that businesses realise it is not just technical skills that need to be taught. Young people need communication skills, confidence, self-awareness and adaptability. These are the skills that will make them proactive, and that will make them happy, and in the end, keep them working at your company!
Finally, as you’re working in a team of mentors, coaches and leaders, can you tell us who’s been a source of inspiration to you in your own life?
I learnt a lot from my dad. He was a teacher; his mantra was ‘firm but fair’. Teachers always look for the potential in children; I know my dad did. Even with the troublesome kids, he could find talent and ability. The key is finding that trigger point that engages a child, which draws out the skills and behaviours to unlock their potential. This is what a great teacher thrives on, and what we all love doing here.
Kirsty Pank is Business Development Director with Flying Start XP, a consultancy working with companies and individuals to deliver training courses for young people that rapidly instil the essential business skills and behaviours needed to become a valued team player. This enables managers to delegate and trust early starters quicker. We know investing in and developing early careers delivers long-term results.