Five early lessons from our Digital Academy for those from disadvantaged backgrounds

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In December, we opened the doors to our first Digital Academy for refugees and those from disadvantaged backgrounds with an aim of helping ‘fast track them’ to employment. Half way through our course, I wanted to reflect on what we’ve learnt.  

Three months in, and I’m reflecting on our partnership with Code Your Future. I think about the students, who with interrupted lives, unfinished studies and integration challenges, want a fair opportunity to work, and to be included in society.

In a very short time, this partnership has become much more than a corporate programme measuring numbers ‘in and out’, trained with the skills for work.  It’s already gone way beyond this as I, and other volunteers build relationships with the students, we are learning to ‘stand in their shoes’, helping them translate what they are learning to prepare for employment in a large organisation like Capgemini. We already have a stake in their futures. It’s been a learning journey for us all.

Lesson no 1: Identifying potential and commitment early on means we increase our chance to help students succeed

Students who applied to the course last September, had eight weeks to build a basic website using open source learning, with minimal support.  This allowed us to test their potential ability and commitment. This phase was self-selecting and only 10% completed it in time to join our course in December. We interviewed everyone who reached this first stage and the majority were accepted onto the course.

Lesson no 2:  Building solid relationships enables us to mentor and guide our students much better

This interview process gave us an insight into the students. It was a turning point as we realised we would want and need to be more heavily invested in them. We made efforts to get to know them, to hear and understand their stories.  Working closely with Code Your Future and expert organisation Inemmo, we assessed the students psychometrically, to match them with our volunteer mentors, who were also assessed to make sure they had the right skills to support the learning and integration needs of our students.   Each receiving a 40-page analytical report, our mentors learnt a lot about themselves in this process too.

Lesson no 3: Soft skills like teamwork are critical to enable people to thrive

Code Your Future also teamed up with Honeycomb Works to provide the soft skills training that we had identified as a key priority for employability.  Hosting these sessions at the beginning of the course was critical in building confidence and establishing the trusted community that has come to be the foundation of the course.

Lesson no 4: There is much more to work than practical skills – we need to build an environment for success

Since we started the course, we have also opened up our Capgemini offices to the students, inviting them to our networking events and introducing our projects and ways of working as part of day long immersion sessions. We also host bi-weekly homework clubs led by our volunteers. We want the students to become familiar with our offices and ways of working, helping them to build a network of contacts across Capgemini. This builds on the foundation of our education and schools outreach programme where we know it is the number of business interactions that enable success.

We’ve also found that these interactions have been critical for preparing our own teams to support and guide the students once they arrive. We’ve had a chance to reflect on our own team structures, the interview and induction processes and how to adapt our working environment to create one where the students will not just survive but thrive.

Lesson no 5: Don’t underestimate the importance of blending on-line learning with face to face support

The regular weekend lectures and collaborative tutor groups at Code Your Future offices are a vital part of the course.  Many of our mentors, who signed up to ‘once a month’ have become regular Sunday course dwellers too, taking on much more and in doing so are also developing their own skills as mentors, lecturers and presenters.  And for the students, the Sunday sessions are a social network, a support group and a foundation for community and trust.

Sanyia Sadova, an Enterprise Architect, is one of our mentors: “Code Your Future offers plenty of opportunity for technical and non-technical volunteers, so suffice to say people find their role more than they are given one. I like to help as much as I can, so consequently I find myself doing many things – from being a technical assistant to a soft-skills mentor and even leading a class recently.”

Perhaps the key lesson though is that community and belonging breed self-belief, which can overcome the biggest barrier to learning. I can sum up what I’ve learnt these last three months very simply. We are all human. We all benefit from belonging. Fear of failure is the biggest barrier to learning – to learn we must believe we can.

The support network nurtured by Code Your Future, students and volunteers alike, re-instates belief.  I am looking forward to what more we will all learn as we roll out this programme over the coming months.

This blog is the first in a series of three. We will share insights over the coming weeks from the perspective of our students and our volunteers.

Read more here about Capgemini’s commitment to digital inclusion

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