Making the most of what (and who) you know

Posted on: 20 Oct 2014

Helen Fraser, CEO of the Girls’ Day School Trust, explains why alumni networks are a vital resource when it comes to preparing students for the world of work…

Schools have a vital role to play when it comes to preparing students for the world of work. Academic achievement undoubtedly has a role to play but as Hilary French, head of Newcastle High School for Girls GDST said back in August: “Results may be important but they don’t define the rest of a student’s life.”

Good schools nurture relationships, encourage friendships and stay in touch with their pupils long after A-level results day. Alumnae networks also provide an excellent opportunity to tap into a wealth of professional expertise. At the GDST, we’re extremely fortunate to have 60,000 alumnae, many of whom are in senior positions, who can be role models for our pupils. They frequently help with work experience or mentoring for our students when they start their careers. In unusual or highly sought-after areas, this can make all the difference when it comes to securing a placement or attending an insight day.

As well as tips on how to impress a future employer, these women are able to offer their successors a unique perspective on their own challenges and triumphs as they climbed the career ladder. Everything from negotiating a pay-rise or promotion to managing work and family life can be shared with openness and honesty, from one empowered woman to another.

Establishing these relationships early is another way to ensure students are prepared for life beyond the school gates. As soon as talk starts turning to career options – sometimes as early as Years 5 and 6 – input from practitioners can excite, inspire and captivate young minds.

When thoughts turn to university and future career choices, it’s worth bearing in mind that employers frequently cite a lack of soft skills as a reason for not pursuing applications. Everything from presentation and interview skills to networking and time management – these are the attributes that can make all the difference when it comes to making the right first impression.

At our recent Young Leaders’ Conference, we were able to offer more than 130 sixth formers from across the GDST network real-life experience of devising a marketing and fundraising strategy for one of four charities: The Children’s Society; Water Aid; The Eve Appeal and learning disabilities charity, Hft.

The leadership skills they gained over the weekend – including teamwork, communication, negotiation, problem solving and financial management – will benefit them enormously when they embark on their chosen careers.

Feedback, from the charities and students, was incredibly positive, particularly as it was combined with ample opportunities for networking with peers and industry experts. Despite the fact that women play a more active part in the workforce than ever before, the gender imbalance in senior leadership positions in just about every sector is well-documented.

Women are still largely underrepresented when it comes to the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) but initiatives, such as Streatham and Clapham High School’s celebration of the life of Ada Lovelace, which took place earlier this month, is helping to turn the tide. A concerted effort on the part of our schools, alumnae and students to encourage girls to take leadership positions and learn from inspirational role models, could make all the difference when it comes to reshaping the world of work.

This blog was first published by Independent Executive magazine.

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The ISC Press Office posts blogs on behalf of ISC schools and Associations.