For the last several years, I existed in two very distinct worlds. The first was my comfortable suburban home, with a loving partner, two wonderful children and an overly enthusiastic Staffordshire bull terrier. While not wealthy, there were not a lot of things we had to do without. The second world was my classroom.
Students only entered my programme when all else had failed. Some had been expelled from mainstream schools, some had truanted for years, some were bullied, some had mental health issues, some had moved from town to town and had no stable schooling experience at all. The vast majority were from low socioeconomic backgrounds; many had no working parent. Their understanding of the purpose of school and work was skewed toward “you’re making me do it and it’s nothing to do with me”. In many cases their anxiety and feelings of disempowerment manifested in aggression – their way of coping was to strike first. And at 15 years old, not wanting to learn and not being ready to earn, these were the students the world wanted to forget.
It would have been easy to finish their story there. Without an education, they would fill the unskilled, minimum-wage positions that nobody else wants or they would end up on welfare, perpetuating the cycle of the underclass and leaving the good jobs for people who deserve them.
But that’s not what teachers do. Teachers know that behind every belligerent expression is a puzzle waiting to be put together properly; beneath every beanie is a mind that wants to express itself but hasn’t figured out how. And so my second world became one of constant battles between silences, gradually filling the “I don’t know” space with an appreciation of unique strengths and abilities, building resilience and awakening creativity so that these young people could find their voices and shout at the world, not in anger but in triumph.
It was an incredible world to be part of, but eventually it became apparent that to effect real change, we must start much earlier. In order to empower young people with an understanding of their own uniqueness and value to the world, we need to begin in primary school, before the decisions become too imminent and the consequences seem more severe. With the rapid encroachment of technology upon the unskilled labour market, it is imperative that we start children thinking about the world of work early, so that they are able to adapt to the inevitable change more naturally. With early identification of strengths, preferences and skills it is easier to differentiate and personalise learning for each student within already existing curriculum frameworks. Making learning more relevant to the student’s needs and empowering them to make learning decisions for themselves increases student engagement and shifts school out of “I have to” and into “I want to”.
Above all, embedding these transferable capabilities early increases the power of education to facilitate social mobility, so that we can shift the narrative to one of optimism for many more young people. This is the story that BEcoME wants to help write: by increasing students’ awareness of the enormous possibilities open to them in the world of work; by encouraging a sense of aspiration so that students develop patterns of success; and by giving students the agency to use their unique skills to design a career that may not even have been thought of yet.
Very simple, BEcoME makes the future of work an exciting world that students are eager to visit. And that’s the world I want to be part of.