A group of us went into a local secondary school recently to do some mock interviews with some of their Year 10s. The school is in the middle of a relatively deprived area in the otherwise wealthy County of Surrey - so the pupils were mostly from families on low incomes and from Asian and Black families as well as white English and East Europeans.
In my opinion young people are not always seen at their best in groups and so when we did some group work on writing their first CVs I was not too surprised that there were one or two who were distracted and not concentrating on the task in hand. But what do they know of the importance of having a good CV for their future prospects at their age?
What was impressive was the level of effort and concentration each of them gave to the mock interviews. we sat at desks in the hall and each of us interviewed around 10 students each. We spoke - one to one - in 10 minute interviews - asking them some fairly open, standard, interview questions. Things like 'Tell me about yourself" and "Give me an example of when you have completed a task".
Each of the them looked nervous but worked hard to give the best answers they could. Some were very shy and gave short answers - some were formal and needed to relax more. Many had clearly rehearsed their answers citing their participation in school leadership projects and sports teams. Each needed to improve in some way (don't we all?) but each made an great effort.
The one girl who impressed most (I will call her Susan for this blog) spoke fluently and better than the other young people and her concentration levels were high - she really worked hard to give the best answers she could.
Judging by her manner - she struck me as someone who if given a job would put her heart and soul into it and if I actually had a job to offer - she would have got it. Susan is black - I mention that because in the hard world out there ethnicity; gender and your educational background counts.
Research by the Runnymede Trust found that members of Ethnic minorities in the UK are facing increased discrimination when it comes to work place recruitment. Other research showed that women are also still finding it harder to get a job if they have children or are of child bearing age. Other research from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found some of the most elite law and City firms discriminated in favour of those who went to public schools and against those when went to State schools.
I recently asked someone who went to a fee paying school if they did interview and CV skills training. at school he smiled and said that they hadn't and he thought the assumption was they would get jobs anyway - thats probably about right.
It is not the same for the Year 10s at Susan's school nor will it be for the ones that come after them. Some are better than others, and there is potential in the all, but they are going into a working world where it doesn't pay (literally and metaphorically) to be from a poor family - to be from an ethnic minority or to be female.
I feel sorry for them for all that they are going to face out there. Some will do OK of course but the system is set against them. That means we may not enjoy the advantages of their potential talents and they won't get to contribute as easily as they should.
I found out something else about Susan after the interview - she had already had a major organ transplant in her short life - something that would knock any of us back but still she stood out from the rest. Hearing this made me more impressed by her.
If only the world worked in such a way that great young people like Susan got good jobs and life opportunities because of their character and determination and ability instead of facing discrimination for all those stupid reasons - gender, ethnicity and where they were born.