Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Inspiring the next generation

Thomas Edison once defined genius as 'one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration'.

Of the many stories that emerged from the competitors at London 2012, the tale of Bradley Wiggins was the one that struck the greatest chord with me. As a boy, he watched cyclist Chris Boardman ride his way to gold in Barcelona and was inspired to take up the sport. 20 years of hard graft later and Wiggins is not only a winner of 7 Olympic medals but earlier this year became the first British winner of the Tour de France. Clearly old Tommy was onto something with his lightbulb moment.

When it comes to helping my students to secure a placement, I operate within the ninety-nine per cent range. Collectively we put in the hours to achieve a mutual goal; they want to gain work experience, I want them to take advantage of all the benefits a placement can offer to their early careers. My role entails providing advice and guidance, building relationships with industry and empowering the students to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them. Ultimately the bulk of the hard work rests on the shoulder of the student. I can't force them to attend placement lectures, make applications or attend interviews, so for my students to be successful they either need to be self-disciplined, or retain suitable levels of motivation.

So who or what provides students with their inspiration? Some may look up to icons of industry such as Richard Branson or the late Steve Jobs. Others will have mentors or relatives to point them onto the path to success. There will however be a great number of students in my lectures that have yet to find their spark and I see it as my job to provide this.

Now, before you start pounding your keyboards in frustration at this overt big-headedness, I probably need to explain myself. I'm not going to pretend to be responsible for my students having a Eureka moment. Nor would I ever expect to deliver that all important one per cent. However, while I may not be the person who lights the fuse, wherever possible I do try to provide the touchpaper.

In my experience, students often gain more inspiration from their peers than they get through industry professionals, or indeed the humble Placement Officer. When companies come to deliver presentations as part of my placement modules, I encourage them to send along one of their current interns. The audience can better relate to seeing one of their own talking about their placement experience, while the presenting student is able to talk through their placement search that will have begun a year earlier in the very same lecture theatre. When promoting placement opportunities, I like to include a profile from a student who has previously worked in the role, to give generic job descriptions a more personal feel which my students can identify with. Better still, they may be happy to be contacted informally by prospective applicants, opening the doorway for networking opportunities. Placement students that share insights from their work experience and placement journey provide context; a living, breathing example of what can be achieved through engaging with sandwich placements.

Inspiration can come in many forms. For the 12 year old Wiggins, watching the Olympics changed his life forever. Sourcing inspiration when looking for placements doesn't have to come from such a defining moment, but rubbing shoulders with fellow students from the same course who have successfully secured a placement may be all that you need. After all, if they can get a placement and be successful, why can't you?