David Black

Explain to our readers what Spark is and how it can benefit Schools and Students across the country?

Spark is a careers platform committed to improving the life chances of young people by bridging the gap between learning and employment, through a comprehensive, inclusive programme of live, interactive and professionally presented employer engagement events.

Focused on ‘sparking’ or igniting student interest in careers opportunities, Spark also provides information on over 300 different career paths and 35,000 plus university and college courses, whilst also listing full details on all current apprentice and job vacancies via a dedicated app.

For students unsure of what the future may hold, Spark offers an interactive careers quiz with personalised Independent Advice and Guidance [IAG] through a safe and secure instant messaging service, which directly links them to their Careers Advisor to ask questions or arrange a time to discuss potential career options.

Ultimately, we believe access to employer's career opportunities is a right not a privilege. In Spark we have created something that supports schools and colleges in their delivery of careers advice and in a format that is immediately accessible to Generation Z.

You recently announced the launch of the Spark app. How did the idea for the app develop and how has it enabled you to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Spark provided live employer engagement events situated in a school or college, which were professionally produced with a panel of relevant representatives, from Board Level through to trainee employees and apprentices. Each event was then streamed to participating schools and colleges across the country live, providing students in the physical audience and others at streamed schools to submit and have their questions answered.

Post COVID, this is no longer possible due to a combination of school closures and social distancing bubbles, so we worked hard to completely shift the events online, but ensured we retained the character of employer engagement to benefit both schools and students alike. 

In doing so, we have made both careers advice and live employer engagement events more accessible, delivering them in a format that students can interact and engage with from any location via a laptop or mobile device – regardless as to whether students go to school in deprived areas or are isolating from school due to positive COVID cases.

Explain to our readers what Spark Employer Engagement Events are and how such events help Schools meet the Gatsby 5 Benchmark?

All Spark employer engagement events follow the same process.

To start, we show an introductory film of each panel member being interviewed at their workplace. This not only provides the opportunity for students to explore and gain insight into the industry in hand, but also inspires questions for the live panel. 

Once the film has finished, our panel have a live and interactive discussion about their career and the industry that they work in. During this time, all students can submit and have their questions answered live. 

We have hosted events with major employers like the NHS, Colas and Volkswagen and most recently hosted a dedicated International Women’s Week event, which comprised of a panel of inspiring women from various industry sectors. 

 The live and interactive nature of these events enables schools to deliver on a number of the Gatsby Benchmarks and, very specifically, Gatsby 5.

How do you think the current generation of GCSE and A-Level Students will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic long-term?

I think GCSE and A-Level students will form part of a highly challenged generation. However, I believe that the use of technology will enable schools and higher education establishments to truly address the challenges that they have and may continue to face.

We have been talking about how to incorporate technology into education and learning for years and now is the time to really maximise it and meet and engage with students in a space where they regularly interact.

Incorporating new technologies will also provide the opportunity to structure education differently, to transform students from passive consumers into active participants so that they not only acquire and learn new information but can use it in a positive and proactive way that enables them to develop and thrive both now and in the future. 

How can initiatives like Spark drive positive change?

Spark employer engagement events aren’t recruitment exercises for organisations, they have been created and are regularly hosted to ‘spark’ interest and present students with a wealth of career opportunities from different industry sectors. 

Through employer engagement events, we aim to help students raise their aspirations and sense of achievement, which – through the power of technology – can reach every single secondary school student across the country, eliminating challenges of geography or limited budgets. 

Prior to the launch of Spark, schools in rural, coastal and deprived areas have really struggled to host and create meaningful employer engagement events simply due to a lack of large employers being located in their area. Aside from overcoming this challenge, Spark drives inclusivity and social mobility, ensuring every single student has the same opportunity to learn about different careers from employers, employees and apprentices live, in real-time.

This isn’t something that has been achieved before in the education sector and is something we are incredibly proud of.

How do you envision work experience evolving – if at all - over the years now schools have adapted to new technologies and ways of working?

Work experience has evolved considerably over the years, but more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spark is linked to many organisations that offer virtual work experience, such as construction firm, Colas. 

Although many could argue that an online experience isn’t the same as visiting a workplace environment, it opens up a wealth of opportunity for students in rural, coastal and disadvantaged areas who have always been limited by geography. Huge leaps have and will continue to be made into advancing online work experience and I believe this will prove incredibly beneficial for students across the country. 

How do students benefit from interactive careers guidance and should conventional models change?

All schools should have access to a qualified, independent careers advisor, who should typically deliver two interviews to all students aged 16 plus as part of the guidance process.

Technology provides the opportunity to improve this process and to make it more interactive – again providing a medium that really engages the student, as opposed to relying on the student to come directly to the advisor.  

This is where the Spark app offers a clear advantage, as it enables both the school and the advisor to offer a better service that can really engage students. Aside from providing an initial careers quiz that encourages students to think about their future, the app also offers an instant messaging service, connecting them to their career’s advice in a safe and secure way, on demand and in real time. Therefore, if a student is inspired following the results of their career quiz or has questions about different careers they are considering, they can send instant messages without having to wait for a formal interview process, which many find intimidating. 

Ultimately, the app addresses a very real need with student engagement and removes the perception of careers guidance as a box-ticking exercise. 

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