Creating the place to succeed
Special Report A US-inspired initiative will set-up work placements for disadvantaged students, writes John Holden
David Poulter, Siobhan O’Keefe and Mary Donovan.Photograph: Aidan Crawley
While high academic requirements and financial resources are the tangible obstacles students must overcome to get into third level, the culture from which a young person emerges also has a significant impact on their future choices.
First Works is a new initiative being organised through Change Nation. Loosely based on US model Genesys Works, the idea is to give transition year students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to do two paid placements during the school year in two participating companies. While the First Works team hope that a variety of different industries will get involved, there will be an emphasis on the financial and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sectors, where Ireland currently has a skills deficit.
Working in partnership with Dublin City University (DCU), students will also be given prior training in areas such as IT, presentation skills, basic accounting etc. It is anticipated, further down the line, that this training can be accredited (the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is one potential certification being considered), which will also be of use to students for their careers.
These will be paid internships so it is a priority for the First Works group that client companies also benefit from their involvement and that students can make a valuable contribution in whatever organization they end up in. This way both parties gain and the project will have more chance of continuing.
“Since I started my career I’ve predominantly worked in ‘for profit’ companies – I currently work for McKinsey Ireland consulting firm – but I have become increasingly interested in the non-profit sector and trying to give something back to society. So many bright and motivated students from disadvantaged areas don’t go to college because no one else they know is going. This is a real shame because there are huge openings in areas like IT, accounting, engineering and the financial sectors that could be filled by the right person, regardless of their background. Instead, very often they’re being filled through inward migration.
“While Ireland has relatively high third level participation, there are still kids that need to be given a bit of help to get their foot in the door. First Works will not only provide them with valuable training and a chance to earn money while doing so, it will also give them the confidence to expand their horizons and consider third level education in a way they might not have before. While we do anticipate an emphasis on certain sectors, we hope that a variety of different companies get on board with us – those working in the humanities, education, or care in the community, for example.”