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

David Poulter, Siobhan O’Keefe and Mary Donovan.Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Tue, Sep 8, 2015, 15:45

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.

David Poulter
Change Leader
“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.”

Mary Donovan
Change Architect
“I worked for most of my career with drinks company, Diageo. Upon leaving them I set up my own consulting company, and have worked closely with the Kerry Group. Now with a little more time on my hands, it was the right time for me to give something back.

“I’m also passionate regarding the issue of youth unemployment amongst young men in Ireland. This might have something to do with the fact that three of my nephews are now in Australia. If this trend continues we’ll lose a whole generation.

“I have worked a lot of my career in ICT and I know that there’s a significant skills shortage. Currently around 4,000 jobs are vacant in Ireland. Through First Works, children from disadvantaged schools will get professional training and get exposed to people who have had successful careers.

“Access to third level is partly to do with funding, but it also has to do with your peer group and whether you have role models you can relate to. If you don’t have them the likelihood is you won’t go to college. So we’re hoping this project will serve as some form of positive intervention. ”

Siobhan O’Keeffe
Change Executive
“I currently work for a medical devices innovation company. However, I understand what it’s like to try and find work during a recession. Upon completing my degree in DIT, I spent nine months looking for a job.

“I’ve always been involved in some sort of voluntary work as well. I just joined Ashoka three months ago. I’ve worked with a number of social initiatives around the capital, including Dublin City Council’s ‘Love The City’ campaign and ‘Idea Lab’ which was part of the Hack The City project in the Science Gallery. Many of the social initiatives I’ve worked in though have been short lived. This time I wanted to do something I felt might have a more long-term impact.

“While we’ll be piloting this in one school in the short term, First Works has the potential to expand and be a very productive initiative. So we’ll start with a group of 25 students from a Dublin-based school near DCU, but we anticipate First Works becoming a nationwide initiative.

“First, however, we need to raise the capital to get it off the ground. In all we need about €60,000 and we are looking for seed funding of about €20,000 which we hope can be obtained through an Indiegogo [a US based online fundraising website] campaign going live on June 14th.”