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Founder Carolyn Parry shares the vision behind the organisation, how the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) helped refocus two existing brands - Career Alchemy and Careers Advice for Parents - into one platform focused around the INSPiRED coaching framework, and how partnerships with EY, Lambeth Council and Unilever helped to expand, validate and strengthen their work.

Carolyn Parry - founder of Career Alchemy - Inclusive Economy Parntership

Can you tell us a bit about your Inclusive Economy Partnership project. What are you doing and what do you want to change?

One of the biggest challenges we face as a society today is the disengagement and loss of people’s potential, which is what happens when individuals lack a clear sense of belonging, purpose and direction in their lives.

According to research by Gallup, only 11% of people who work in the UK are ‘workplace stars’ - intellectually and emotionally engaged because they love what they do - leaving a whopping 89% acting as sleepwalkers or worse still saboteurs in the workplace.

Meanwhile, there are currently 788,000 young people in the UK who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). That’s over three quarters of a million young people whose talent and potential lies fallow, and who may experience lower life satisfaction and levels of well-being as a result.

Around 70% of today’s teenagers turn to their parents for help with their career choices, yet over half of all parents feel ill-prepared to help, which is hardly surprising given that most parents are unhappy at work themselves.

What’s clear from research and the media is that above all young people want a sense of purpose and belonging. They need help in identifying that they have something meaningful to contribute to the world so that they feel worthwhile and know where they fit in.

The big difference we are focused on making

Since we started the business in 2015, our overall objective has been to develop a research-proven, easy-to-use career and life coaching programme that enables individuals of all ages to navigate their way through a rapidly changing world of work.

If we can enable people to make better choices, they are less likely to become a sleepwalker or saboteur in the workplace, suffer from work-related stress or worse still, become lost, unemployed or under-employed. More importantly, and the elephant in the room of modern day society, is that their potential won’t be lost.

[Before we got involved with the IEP], we had already developed a robust and proven career and life coaching framework called INSPiRED, which had been used successfully with mature career changers as well as university students and graduates to help them develop working lives that they love.

The challenge for young people is not only to be prepared for this new world of work, but crucially for jobs that haven’t been invented yet.

Carolyn Parry, founder of Career Alchemy

Much of our initial work was done in a “cure” context – helping those who were lost or on the wrong path to set a better direction. Given that many parents themselves lack a fundamental confidence in their ability to provide effective support, we wanted to see if we could use the programme to facilitate effective intergenerational conversations which could prevent teenagers from making poor career decisions in the first place.

In 2017, we created a video version called INSPiRED Teenager. The programme is designed to encourage teenagers to work with their parent or carer to understand their potential and combine it with a clear sense of purpose so they can thrive and experience happiness and success through meaningful contribution.

Being selected to take part in the IEP gave us the chance to test how effective our programme could be in preventing young people from developing a NEET profile, by measuring changes in career confidence and clarity of direction among cohorts living in economic cold spots.

To do this, we commissioned the specialist team at the International Centre for Education and Guidance Studies (iCeGS), part of the University of Derby, to run a comparative research study to evaluate the effectiveness of the INSPiRED Teenager programme delivered in two variants: online for parents/carers to self-serve with support from a live forum; and delivered live across two workshops.

Career Alchemy workshop

Young people and their parents at the INSPiRED Teenager workshop

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the transition to work for young people in our society today?

Having a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging is important to all, but most of all to young people as they seek to make sense of the world and their place in it. If we fail to harness their potential, they run the risk of living unfulfilled lives of quiet desperation.

Moreover, with what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the world of work is changing at a pace seen never before. Globalisation, technology, extending webs of trade, artificial intelligence and automation are changing labour markets in profound ways. The challenge for young people is not only to be prepared for this new world of work but crucially for jobs that haven’t been invented yet. The skills they need are beyond the foundational literacy. They need the tools and ability to find their career paths and be able to re-invent themselves with confidence and clarity through the course of their working lives.

Getting major corporate partners behind the programme has allowed us to lay a strong foundation of research that proves the impact of the INSPiRED Teenager programme on young people’s lives.

Carolyn Parry, founder of Career Alchemy

Tell us a bit about one of the partnerships you formed during the IEP. Who are you working with and what does this relationship look like?

Traditionally our work focused on working with adults. Thanks to our involvement with the IEP we have been able to test parts of the newly written live programme through the work we did with EY as part of their Parentaship programme, which came about because of our IEP participation. This meant delivering roadshows around the country to parents and their teens. Contact with another IEP participant led to us working with Lambeth Council, where we were also able to test our content with a live group.

We were fortunate to attract support from Delivery Champion, Unilever, for the live part of our full programme delivery test following a meeting with their General Manager, Sebastian Munden. As a result, Unilever decided to back the project and asked their subcontractor, All about STEM, to work with us to recruit parent/carer and teenager duos to attend a two-part workshop series, which Unilever hosted at their brand-new Advanced Manufacturing Centre, located in Liverpool, an economic cold spot.

Sebastian Munden, General Manager for Unilever UK and Ireland said: “At Unilever, whilst we believe that engaging with and attracting diverse young talent is key to building a business fit for the future, we know there are barriers which may prevent that first step being taken. We chose to partner with Career Alchemy as we see great value in their approach; not only equipping young people but also those in their support network, including parents and carers. We look forward to working together to bring young talent to careers they and their parents may not have previously considered.”

What impact has the IEP made on your project and goals?

Getting major corporate partners behind the programme has allowed us to lay a strong foundation of research that proves the impact of the INSPiRED Teenager programme on young people’s lives.

The IEP has not only helped us to reach thousands more young people, parents and carers with courses and information (nearly 93,000 in the last 12 months) but also raised our own ambitions for Career Alchemy. We are now looking at further amplifying the impact of Career Alchemy through digital approaches and creating a train the trainer programme for career coaches and careers leaders.

What have you learned about how to build a successful partnership?

Like any relationship, it takes time, a common sense of purpose, trust and understanding for it to develop and flourish.

Where do you plan to take Career Alchemy from here?

We are already working with new clients as a result of having a research-proven solution that is effective with young people. This adds to the work we already do under the Career Alchemy brand using the INSPiRED framework and career and life planning tool in programmes with university students, graduates and more established professionals who want to change direction.

Following advice from a specialist marketing consultant we met thanks to the IEP, we have decided to consolidate our activities under the Career Alchemy brand, which embodies our aspirations to enable individuals of all ages to be able to access, learn and use our solution so they can create thriving working lives, no matter how much the world changes or technology driven changes inevitably impact on the world of work.

People of all ages, particularly young people are grappling with the unprecedented changes to the labour markets and our individual work lives. To quote Klaus Schwab, former Chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, “The changes are so profound that there’s never been a time of greater promise or greater peril.”

We know that along with governments, we as civil society too have our share of responsibility to respond to these changing times. With our proven programmes, we are now determined to take Career Alchemy to half a million more people over the next three years.

To do this, we will continue to work with new associates, partners and clients to deliver on this ambition. We are grateful to Nesta for helping us lay a strong foundation for our growth and look forward to continued support and partnership.

Find out more about Career Alchemy.

The Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) is a pioneering initiative changing the way that government, business and civil society work together to address some of society's toughest challenges. Between August 2017 and September 2018, Nesta worked with the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to run the Inclusive Economy Partnership Accelerator, supporting 18 IEP grant winners across three challenge areas (financial inclusion, mental health in the workplace, and the transition to work for young people) to scale their solutions through meaningful partnership with business, civil society and government.