“Young people losing hope in the future” – not on our watch

The Prince’s Trust has tracked the well-being of young people for over a decade.

Last month the charity recorded the highest anxiety levels ever, in those aged between 16-25 years, fuelling further fears that ‘young people are losing all hope for their future’.

Their report coincided with the Make Your Mark Winter School I ran pro-bono for students, offering them the time, space and practical tools coaching makes available. Tools proven to help reduce anxiety, promote resilience, and improve mental health.

What’s clear from the near-on 100 students I’ve now coached from universities and colleges across the country, is that the essential soft skills that coaching develops, the ones so desperately needed in business, are missing in the academic arena and, in this unprecedented climate, that’s impacting their career prospects and their mental health.

Karissa Shah, Kings College, London
Karissa Shah

“What I learned from Susan’s Winter School was a lot different to what they teach at university and school.

We’ve never looked at things like mindset or body language and how these things impact you and your speech.

All these nuggets Susan shares are really going to help me. I think there’s a lot of young people out there that will benefit from this programme.”

So says Karissa Shah who is in her final year at Kings College, London, studying a BA in the Political Economy. She is not alone in holding this view.

I’ve developed and am delivering these student schools to lend a helping hand to our young people - our leaders of the future – to enable them to explore how they think, how they look, what they say and how they say it. Their response has been phenomenal.

But I haven’t run these schools alone, I’ve done so with the support of my corporate clients and that support reassures me that business is not, as the alarming headlines suggest, ready to write off this COVID generation”.

I’ll be running another virtual school, again pro bono, this summer for up to 100 students and will again be inviting my clients to lend their support. So, if you didn’t get involved this time and want to understand what it is all about, then please keep reading. For here I share the programme’s benefits and why young participants are finding these schools so special in some of their words, rather than mine…

“Coronavirus has hit home more since I did Susan’s programme last summer,” says

Heriot-Watt final year Chemical Engineering student Emily Mason, who is also a Make Your Mark ambassador. “It was early days when I did this programme – we were still unsure what impact the pandemic would have on us. I couldn’t believe how much anxiety I was hearing from Winter School students just six months on. Anxiety about their career prospects, the scarcity and competitiveness of jobs and internships. But these schools create as safe space for students. One module is all about mindset and I was impressed by how much students were engaging and sharing their personal experiences.”

“I was really self-critical,” says Emma Boyle, Winter School participant who is studying International Business Management at Heriot-Watt University and has just become a Make Your Mark Ambassador. “I think I knew that before attending this programme, I thought I had quite low confidence, but I never actively looked or knew how to fix it. Susan gave us 10-15 ways that we could try to tackle this inner critic. I’ve used one of them a lot. It’s really helped me.”

“This pandemic has impacted student mental health adversely. When you hear that constant negative voice in your head, you can and must manage it because if you don’t, you’re not taking into consideration the consequences that it’s having on you. It’s really impacting everything – how you look, how you speak, how you act,” that’s Lewis Traill, Winter School participant and newly appointed Make Your Mark Ambassador, who is studying Mechanical Engineering and is a Project Director for the Engineering Society at the University of Edinburgh.

Salman-Ur Rehman, Heriot-Watt Uni
Salman-Ur Rehman

“The person who nominated me for Winter School told me: ‘This will be a life changing career moment for you,’ and it certainly was. Each session offered everyone something we could take away. Being able to give so many different people something they want, something they need, something they’d enjoy – I’d say that’s exceptional.”

Salman-Ur Rehman is in his final year at Heriot-Watt University studying Chemical Engineering, and has also become a programme Ambassador.

Kirsty Mitchell, another Make Your Mark ambassador facilitating many breakout rooms for Winter School says: “In the last session I asked what students found most impactful. They all had different answers, but they loved learning about unhelpful speech habits. I think that was so useful because everyone does these things without realising. People were sharing the immediate results they were getting from that session – like the girl who told me she’d been in an interview and could hear Susan’s voice in her mind. She’d left that interview so pleased with her performance.”

Emily Fielder

“These techniques Susan shares help you in interviews, but I’ve been finding them incredibly useful even when writing my job applications. For example, when asked, ‘why do you think you’d be a good fit for the job’ it’s quite difficult to try and tell a company you’re right for them without sounding arrogant. Then, when you try not to sound arrogant, you can come across as less confident.

When you’re doing job applications it’s an important skill and I’ve been finding Susan’s tips from Winter School really useful.”

This is the experience of Emily Fielder who will be finishing her Master’s in Global Social and Political Thought at St Andrews University in September.

Ifeanyi Felukwu