In a recent blog entithled Customer Service Education – A License to Skill, I spoke about the importance of rethinking, expanding and broadening career preparation for young people. In particular, the need for businesses and academic institutions to do more to equip students with the attitude and skills that is not just fit for today’s purpose, but to prepare young people for tomorrow’s challenges, regardless of their ultimate role in a company.

This was underlined recently in a speech by David Simmonds, Chief Executive of the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, when he spoke at the Catch22  Apprenticeships and Employability awards event in London. In particular he noted that local economies themselves have to mastermind their renaissance. This needs to be a partnership between employers, providers, schools, local enterprise partnerships and the public sector.

I’m pleased to report that in sunny Somerset, one school and local businesses are heeding his advice and are well on the way to making this a reality, and doing it in style.

I was invited to be part of a recent programme called I-Am-Bition at King Arthur’s Community School (KACS) in Wincanton, aimed at engaging business and schools together in a common goal to encourage and inspire students to show they have what it takes to make it in the world of business. And boy did they show us!

With strong support from a team of student facilitators, great speakers and motivators such as Dave Thomas and David Hyner, and the staff at the school led by Head Master Chris Beech, they clearly demonstrated creativity, knowledge and a passion for success that is all too rarely found in many businesses today.

Over a three day period their task was to learn to work together in a team, and to develop and present creative ideas based on challenges set by the businesses supporting the programme.  It kicked off with the teams attending a mini-convention/trade show of local businesses including ALS, EDF, Dairy Crest, Somerset Skills and Learning, and the Customer Lifeguard. Their goal was to use that time to speak with the company representatives to learn as much as they could, then follow that up with additional research in order to effectively become that business in their own trade show and convention.


The Customer Lifeguard Stand

On the final day I was privileged to judge their efforts by visiting their various stands, to see their promotional creativity and innovation in action and to hear their convincing and well-crafted presentations promoting their “companies.” As judges we weren’t involved in scoring the students representing our own businesses, but I’m pleased to report that The Customer Lifeguard teams did a stellar job and the year 8 team(12 -13 year olds), won first prize for their personal skills. This is a critical element in any business, but particularly if you’re helping people with customer service. There’s a future for all of them whenever they’re ready!


First Prize for Personal Skills

What was really great to witness was the transition from typical, nervous young teens on day one, to accomplished, outgoing and personable young men and women who spoke and acted with confidence and aplomb during the day three trade show.  I know that Head Master Chris Beech, who has known all of the students for far longer than any of us participating, was visibly moved by the growth and maturity that he saw in such a short time and all of us will keep this in our memories for a long time.

It would be naïve to think that there isn’t a lot of building work to do to make events like this a regular part of a school curriculum. However, with people such as Steve Lafferty, MD of ALS Technologies, whose drive and commitment was instrumental in making this happen, along with Chris Beech and the teaching staff from KACS we’ll clearly have strong foundations in place.  If we have more schools and companies that believe that this type of initiative and associated partnerships are critical to economic health, personal growth and development and we add a healthy dose of student spirit, desire and innovation, we can complete the task.

As the Chinese proverbs says “teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”

If these young future stars are anything to go by then they’ve not only found the door, but have sailed on through it.

In Somerset, the kids are alright, the future is bright and they’re on track for a lifetime of opportunity.