12/06/2013 08:27 BST | Updated 10/08/2013 06:12 BST

Back to the Classroom - My Mini Millennial Experience

One morning last week I went back to school. This time it was as a local employer, helping a group of "mini Millennials" prepare for work experience. My brief seemed clear enough. I had to conduct two activities with the students: one to visualise what a model employee would look like; the other to visualise an employee from hell, with the worst imaginable attitude and behaviours. Fun, I thought, as I drove into Kent and found my way into the classroom where I was put in charge of 17 young adults, aged 14 to 15, all male, one with special needs.

Facing this class was daunting. My respect for teachers grew with every second. I took a deep breath. Engagement was positive, albeit influenced to some degree by peer pressure. Soon the outputs from the activities felt more and more as if they matched the plan.

These young adults - the mini Millennials of now and our workforce of the future - got me thinking. How do we spot talent amongst them? Was one (or more) of them a leader of the future? They were bright young people, with obvious sparks of ambition yet, I heard that same morning, few of them plan to go to university. Most are put off, not by ability, but by the barrier of fees.

Will this matter? If I look back at my own career journey, there were people along the way who spotted my potential; those who planted a seed that grew into my strong social purpose that adds passion to my work, a passion recognised in my recent short-listing for the First Women Awards, in association with Lloyds Banking Group. It's this experience that drives me to encourage others who want to do well, work hard and give all they can. They deserve the chances that I've had.

Without a doubt, it is increasingly hard for young people to gain university degrees; but their talent will exist regardless of their qualifications. Talent may become harder to recognise, but the onus is on us managers to look for it, to tease it out and to develop it.

In my own experience, not all young people that I encounter from the millennial generation are actually brimming with self-assurance. Issues of self-esteem, anxiety, etc, are commonplace. That old demon: lack of confidence, holds some of them back.

Talent in individuals is often hidden, suppressed or masked. That spark of something special is elusive but when spotted, it's clearly there. When someone otherwise ordinary stands out and displays sparkle, it's a magic moment.

In terms of developing confidence, first of all understand what each individual in your team is capable of offering. Know their talents and limitations - know what each one does best. Tell them they're doing well, when they do something good. Tell them that they're brilliant at times when they are. And that you value their contributions. You are who you are professionally because of the team that you lead.

Managers should create chances for people to shine. We owe this to the people in our teams and to future generations, such as the group of mini Millennials that I was fortunate to encounter at school last week.

Despite my shaky start, I enjoyed the experience of going back to school. Being called "Miss" felt very adult but at the same time, I confess, somewhat flattering!

As we ended the morning's activities, the bell rang and the class was about to disband. I asked each of the young men to shake my hand as they left the room. I said they should smile and make eye contact with me as they did so. A fundamental skill, practiced, as they embark upon that important transition from which there is no return: the journey from adolescence to adulthood.


Marilyn DiCara is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.

For further information click here.

The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.