Working with a Bedfordshire College

Through specific programmes, Exemplas raised awareness of employability and enterprise across Bedfordshire, helping students to explore different ways of moving towards economic independence and participation.

The ‘Can you give yourself a job?’ workshop was a key feature in this programme, providing a basic overview of employability and self-employment to students who may not have considered this career route as an option. Designed to take enterprise into the community and to new audiences, the workshop has been delivered across many different locations and in many different venues, including a beauty salon in Bedfordshire based college, an ideal site for a group of beauty therapy students. Temporarily laying aside their electrolysis kits and technical knowledge to think about their next career steps, proved a ground breaking experience - for facilitators and attendees alike.

Arriving at a classroom filled with beds instead of desks and salon chairs instead of seats was an unexpected challenge for the workshop facilitators, and set the tone for the on the spot thinking that characterised the day. Whilst the students may have been working towards the same qualification, the differences in experience, age, ambition and personal context were huge; and, ensuring that the course content was of relevance and benefit to all was a challenge from the onset.

Using the industry focus as a tangible point of reference, a range of group exercises helped to start the thinking around employment options and encouraged students to begin exploring – and sharing – their aspirations. Recognising the value of this process and also realising that many students would be considering self-employment at a much later stage in their career journey, the facilitators moved away from the slide based delivery to a peer discussion model. This encouraged group attendees to share stories and experiences relating to both self-employment and employment, thereby expanding participation in learning.

Through removing any barriers between students, and between group students and facilitators; the workshop achieved a far deeper level of engagement with all present, and ensured that the focus was really placed on each individual and their particular needs. Offering empathy, suggestions and support to each other; the value of this approach was affirmed by the insights that the participants reached, and their ability to openly explore and share their personal challenges and experiences. For example, one student who had appeared disengaged managed to acknowledge that she was not interested in beauty therapy, deciding instead to explore the options for returning to A-levels and pursuing her aspirations towards University. Similarly, another student who was working in order to fund her learning recognised that her real interest lay in massage and physiotherapy, and she was given further support in exploring how to make this a reality.

The arrival of our enterprise coaches and partner The Prince’s Trust, provided an opportunity for those who had expressed an interest in self-employment to access the expertise to support them in realising these ambitions. With a highly viable business idea presented by a mother and daughters partnership, along with some determined and ambitious students, bringing group education and enterprise coaching together into one space proved a particularly effective approach towards building relationships with business support organisations and ensuring that workshop beneficiaries gained as much as possible from the day.

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“The feedback I have received from the students is all very positive. They found the workshop helpful on many levels and I think it even gave some of them more confidence in going out and getting themselves a job.”

Lauren Stewart

Course Team Leader