Monday 26 September 2016

Connecting the class to the world of work

One of the country's largest school outreach programmes gives students a glimpse into working life

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 01/10/2015 | 02:30

Fifth year students learn about the workplace with tutor John Lynch, at CBS Thurles.
Fifth year students learn about the workplace with tutor John Lynch, at CBS Thurles.

Second-level students are often bombarded with information to help them make decisions about their future careers and their choices on CAO applications for college entry. However, many leave school with little or no insight into the realities of the world of work and some of the broader life questions they will confront.

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A programme called Youth Connect, now in its fifth year, is seeking to fill the information gap and educate school-leavers about issues they will have to deal with in their working lives, regardless of their career .

It touches on topics such as employment rights, trade unionism, corporate social responsibility and globalisation.

The globalisation module promotes the engagement of students in solidarity actions such as the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Fair Trade movement, eradication of child labour and more ethical trading, particularly in the production of clothes and technology.

YouthConnect is run by the Irish Congress of Trades Unions and the content was developed in close collaboration with the three teaching unions (ASTI, TUI and INTO) and the Irish Second-level Students' Union .

In 2014-15, YouthConnect delivered workshops to 24,374 students across 325 schools - almost half of all second-level schools, making it one of Ireland's largest school outreach programmes.

"We started the programme because we felt that young people don't really have a clue about work and what they do when they go into the workplace," says programme manager Fiona Dunne.

"The idea was to get them work-ready in a gentle way by talking to them about the world of work, their rights, some of the issues that might come up and how to deal with them."

The workshops are facilitated by mentors, or 'regional champions'. Lessons typically last 80 minutes, and are designed for students in Transition Year and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, as both require students to complete a work experience placement.

YouthConnect also customises its material to provide workshops for fifth and sixth year classes and Leaving Cert Applied students, as well as post-Leaving Cert courses.

John Lynch, regional champion for the south west says: "I always try to make it about the student. The vast majority have no experience with work whatsoever, but there are a number of students who are working part-time. We're trying to give them the tools to take responsibility in the workplace."

YouthConnect's five regional champions are all teachers. Mr Lynch was previously a business and accounting teacher, and he visits schools in Limerick, Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Tipperary.

His lessons combine an introduction to workers' rights with group exercises focused on workplace situations.

He says: "It's about teaching students how to protect themselves with the knowledge we give them in the classroom.

"We're making them aware of what they should be doing, when they should be taking breaks, how much they should be getting paid, and how many hours they should be working,."

Martin Power is a business teacher in CBS Thurles, Co Tipperary. YouthConnect provides workshops to his fifth and sixth year business classes.

He says: "It's a wonderful learning tool. The topics they deal with are very relevant, particularly for older students.

"It brings topics we cover on the syllabus very much to life and makes them more relevant to students' lives. It's different from listening to the same teacher the whole time, and the students really enjoy it and engage very much."

YouthConnect hosts an annual 'Youth for Decent Work' video competition.

The 2015 winner was Eoin Corbett (19), a former pupil of CBS Thurles, who sat his Leaving Cert this year.

Eoin, who is now working as a video editor while taking a gap year, recalls the focus on the CAO: "Seventeen--year-olds are trying to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives, so career guidance time was dedicated to that.

"You do work experience in Transition Year, but that's about it. YouthConnect was covering topics that we were never told about in any other part of our education."

Some second-level students may be involved in part-time work after school or during the Christmas holidays.

As jobs can be scarce, students are eager to hold on to them, and may be afraid to speak out if they feel they are being treated unfairly.

According to Fiona Dunne, "If they feel like they're not getting paid properly, or they're working extra hours for free, they're actually quite nervous about saying anything. They tell us, 'We just think we'd be sacked if we asked.'

"When they're in the workplace, it's not like school - they're not necessarily going to be told what to do all the time in respect of asking for their rights.

"If we can get students to understand that they have a set of rights that they should ask for, then there is less possibility for exploitation."

YouthConnect workshops touch on some of the areas covered in Junior Cert Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), such as rights and responsibilities, law and democracy.

Currently, there is no follow-on subject at senior cycle, but next year, a new, optional Leaving Cert. subject will be introduced, with the aim of building on the CSPE. As part of the commemoration of 1916, Politics and Society will be piloted in about 25 second-level schools from September 2016.

The course "aims to develop the learner's capacity to engage in reflective and active citizenship", and students will study topics including democracy, conflict, globalisation, diversity and sustainable development.

'Youth for Decent Work' competition 2016

Now in its third year, the Youth Connect video competition gives a team of students the chance to win a trip to New York. The theme for this year's contest is 'safe and healthy workplaces'.

To enter, students can get together in groups of two to four and create a three-minute video about the topic of health and safety in the context of decent work.

The deadline for online registration for the competition is November 29, 2015. All video entries must be submitted by January 28, 2016.

Last year's winning entry was screened in the Savoy Cinema, Dublin to an audience of almost 700 people.

Irish Independent

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