Updated: Jun 18, 2021
New: Make Your Mark with Susan Room® open summer school for students looking to secure their professional edge
“What’s your biggest fear right now?” I ask.
“Not being able to be the best I can be,” comes the reply.
I could be in a coaching conversation with a mid-career professional but I’m not. Somewhat unusually, I’m chatting via Zoom with a group of young interns.
What I hear has such a profound impact on me that I’m launching a new, open summer school programme as a result. So, if you know someone at university and want to help them be ‘the best they can be’ then please keep reading.
I’m on Zoom, in conversation with these young people because my long-term client Baillie Gifford, a global responsible-investment firm, has asked me to run a slimmed down version of my Make Your Mark with Susan Room® programme for their summer interns.
“All of my friends had their placements cancelled,” says Edward Sheasby, one of the interns who enters his fourth and final year studying Geography at St Andrews University this Autumn.
“To get the call to say Baillie Gifford’s internship was going ahead, but virtually, was a massive relief. With so many people currently out of work, every last drop of employability is worth its weight in gold.”
He’s right, with 649,000 fewer people employed now than when lockdown began, competition for jobs is going to be fiercer than ever.
Internships and placements are increasingly the way into graduate jobs yet a recent report shows a fifth of students have lost those opportunities as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, they’ve also lost confidence and nearly a third are worried they’ll struggle to get a job upon graduating. For more on Gen Z's response to the pandemic see the recent report 'The coronavirus continues: how are Gen Z responding now' by Trendence UK.
“My last four years have been leading up to a moment that’s been abruptly cancelled due to Coronavirus,” explains Emily Mason, who enters her fifth year of studying chemical engineering at Heriot-Watt University in the Autumn.
“Anyone can study from a textbook at home but I’m missing out on key aspects that define my whole course. For example, I’ve already had one key presentation completely cancelled and I’m supposed to be delivering a Dragons’ Den style one. The Dragons' Den is a highly regarded opportunity to make an impact on ‘real people’ from industry. Now I’ll probably be doing it virtually and only to my professor - that’s just not the same. It’s these types of interactions and opportunities with professionals that make the difference.”
Yet pressure remains high and rising on young people to recoup the return on their educational investment, get the best grades, and be successful. Lockdown isolation and increased social media usage seem to be significantly adding to that pressure.
As Khalis Ariff, an international student studying chemical engineering at Edinburgh University, explains:
“It’s been hard to meet your friends and family in lockdown. I’ve spent time connecting on social media but I’m lacking the emotional support that I’m used to getting. It has been a difficult and demoralising time.
Lots of international students went home but I got the offer from Baillie Gifford so I stayed in Edinburgh. Even though the internship was made virtual, it has been so much better than I expected. Susan’s sessions, which focused on our personal and social development, were particularly insightful.”
Beth Thom who is half way through her degree in International Business Management at Heriot-Watt University adds:
“We’re the first generation to experience growing up constantly in the public eye. You see everything on social media. It has become so easy and normal to compare ourselves to everyone else. There’s no off switch and it has such a detrimental effect on our mindset - how we think about ourselves. That’s why Susan’s Make Your Mark programme was such a welcome part of our internship. I’d never done anything like it before and it felt like a massive weight had been lifted after her mindset and inner critic session.”
While there seems to be growing recognition that the pressures being felt by university students are having a detrimental impact on their mental health, the practical tools to help reduce their anxiety and promote resilience and self-care as they look to transition into the workplace seem sadly lacking.
“I don’t know how to describe Susan’s Make Your Mark programme,” says Edward. “To call it ‘soft skills’ is really to dilute it. But these core skills she’s taught us and the practical tools she’s given us are totally nonexistent on the university scene - in a shameful way because they are so important to employability.”
Adapting to Coronavirus has been tough for everyone but how we help our young people, our future business