A Crazy Idea Or A Necessary Step Towards Readiness?
When I first joined BluLever, we were right in the middle of the second edition of Leadership Base Camp. As I learnt more about my new company, and about this product - often referred to as LBC - I started to have that feeling (that would soon become familiar) of “Wait, can we do this? Is this too crazy?” What sparked the feeling was when I was told that we're sending 40 - 45 young people, as our final stage of selection, on a two-month long camp, with the first month both fully residential and in the bush. These are essentially young adults, many with kids of their own, leaving their families and homes for a full month on the chance they might get into a plumbing apprenticeship programme.
"I was confused, intrigued and cautiously optimistic all at once. Why were we sending potential plumbing apprentices to a camp in the Magaliesburg?"
Was there a point to doing this? What do waterfalls, meditation and a schedule that starts at 5am have to do with trades?
Over the years, many industries have struggled to integrate younger people into the workforce. Employers cite young people’s perceived laziness, lack of focus and lack of patience. This is a sentiment that also exists in the plumbing industry, and the trades more broadly; that young people do not want to do tough and “dirty” work.
What is clear from BluLever’s Artisan Report is that much of the perception about “millennials” (who are often not millennials at all, but rather our younger, feistier Gen Z siblings) and much of the struggle to integrate them into the working world, is due to cultural differences, misaligned expectations, and mismatched opportunities. They are often misinterpreted as lazy, stubborn, having the wrong mindset, and unwilling to adapt and fall in line.
To return to the question of what is the point of taking candidates to a camp where they spend time reflecting, running up hills and learning to change tires? The short answer is: work readiness and leveling the playing field. LBC is an attempt to address the mindset and cultural mismatch by providing young people with a transferable skills base that underpins all areas of life. Setting them up for success no matter the trade or career they end up pursuing.
LBC sets expectations about the workplace, making them aware of what is expected of them and what they should expect once they start their journey to employment. It is also a profound attempt to level the playing field, to allow young adults who may have never hiked, or camped, or spent a day just thinking about themselves and building life skills that are only useful to them as people (who, in short, didn’t go to a private school), the fundamental luxury of investing in their growth as people.
Learning To Dream Bigger And Do Better
One of the most impactful things I have noticed about students going through their LBC journey is that they start to believe that they can do better and dream bigger. Their view of themselves changes, they gain more confidence and begin to ask more of themselves.
Having now been through four LBCs, I can see that students finish with a rejuvenated sense of self. With the tight and action-packed schedule each day, the students gain a real appreciation for time and punctuality. Along with a sense that they can organise and schedule their lives by themselves – a readiness to take ownership of their lives.
Classes span from Self Development to Safe Spaces, to Interview Preparation and Budgeting; this makes it no surprise that many students leave LBC completely transformed. They not only learn the valuable skill of being able to reflect on their past actions but also practical skills they can use in their lives.
"And sometimes, even as a facilitator, I find moments and opportunities for growth in my own life from the content we deliver at LBC."
Take a look at the LBC video to learn more about the LBC student experience:
LBC is an 8-week Readiness Programme that begins with a residential element and concludes on campus. The first, residential, stage of the camp ends with a 3-day hike called "Journey". And as the name suggests the students go on a physical journey through the mountains, as well as a metaphorical journey within themselves. Reflecting on their lives and their progress at LBC thus far. At this stage, many students express anxiety that people will not recognise the "new" person that they are and their newfound sense of purpose.
At the end of Journey, students cannot believe that they have hiked and camped outside in tents for 3 days. For many of them, this was their very first hike and their very first camp. They are left with a great sense of accomplishment that’s evident from their phone calls to family when they arrive back in Braamfontein (I once heard a young woman telling her mom she had hiked 60kms over the past 3 days - not quite, but still an impressive 38kms!).
Applying New Found Skills
For the last few LBCs, I have run many of our Group Support Sessions – spaces for students to open up to each other as a group and find opportunities to support each other. Toward the end of LBC, we run the last of these Group Support Sessions, to allow students to reflect on their journey and continue to find ways they could potentially support each other going forward.
During our final session, students will often reflect on how transformative LBC has been for them. Many note how they have changed as people, and share the skills and habits they have gained: keeping to a routine, time management, budgeting, public speaking, exercising every day, and many more. They reflect on how they can apply their newfound skills to almost any aspect of their lives. Many say that their family and friends are stunned by how different they seem.
“On my first day back home, my friends were ‘shook’ when I left them at 7:30pm so that I could be home in time to sleep by 9pm because I want to have a run tomorrow at 5:30am. My morning run is now a very important part of my day, I can no longer just wake up and do nothing.” – Siyathemba LBC5 participant.
The value of LBC in empowering young people to own their journey and lives really hit home for me when I saw the BluLever Employer video. Watching the montage of our apprentices at the workplace, doing well and owning their experience, really made the point of LBC stick for me. LBC was giving these young people the chance to believe in themselves again, the opportunity to prove to themselves that they can amount to something. Hearing the very same employers who would talk about millennials with bad attitudes and young people who just wanted to be “ladder holders”, now praising those young people for their hard work is inspiring.
This sentiment is expressed in the video by Pieter Meiring, of Optimus Plumbing, one of our employer partners who says “You treat people with dignity and respect. All the apprentices there [at BluLever] have a sense of self-respect; they’re not dragging their feet. Everyone has a good energy about them and that’s because of the atmosphere…”
Employers singing the praises of young apprentices is the true test of whether our programmes work and are worthwhile. And with the feedback we have received from employers so far, LBC is not looking too crazy anymore...
Onwards and Upwards
This is not to say that every story has a happy ending. Some apprentices have not done well with their employers, they’ve made mistakes and lost opportunities, and this is part of their learning journey, and part of ours. We support them through the difficult times, and collect as much data as we can to improve our products, the student experience and the overall impact. Our rigorous feedback collection and iteration process makes sure that every LBC is better than the last. Through an iterative process, LBC will continue to change, grow, develop and improve, just like the participants who go through it.
Hopefully, you enjoyed learning about our answer to the readiness, mindset and culture challenge - and how we prepare young people for the workplace. We’d love to hear from you, about how you prepare young people for success - and who knows, maybe something you share will end up in the next LBC. Subscribe to the "Being Part of BluLever" newsletter so you don't miss the next solution seeking article.
Thato Mokoena is a Soft Skills Facilitator at BluLever. He believes in the power of education to inspire change and give people a voice in the world. He is an experienced Facilitator with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He is passionate about Education and Social Justice. He joined BluLever because it gave him a chance to put his beliefs into action. And he is still getting used to describing himself in the third person.