EPG Blog Series: Change Agents UK
Change Agents UK was selected as a feature for our Effective Practice Guide because of its comprehensiveness and strong sustainability focus. It offers environmental work placements, social enterprise experience, access to a huge network of fellow agents and alumni, etc.
So, in the course of its research into Change Agents UK, Peace Child International sat down (over Skype) with Jasmine Kubski, International Sustainability Projects Manager, and Nick Goodman, Group Chief Executive to learn more about the initiative.
PCI: When, why and how did Change Agents UK start?
Nick: Change Agents UK started in 1996 as a response to high graduate unemployment, considering the amount of graduates that are struggling to access paid work, particularly paid work that is meaningful and centred on what they want to do with their career and values.
Change Agents UK also started with a particular focus on sustainability and environment issues and careers, in spite of the fact that these phrases were quite uncommon 18 years ago. We were a long way from having a government department in the UK that was actually had something to do with climate change.
We were also attempting to create an alternative to unpaid internships and volunteering, as there are quite a lot of unpaid and volunteering opportunities in the environmental area. The way we did that was to become an organisation that offered paid graduate opportunities.
PCI: What is Change Agents UK approach to working with young people?
Jasmine: We provide work experience, whether in the UK or in Europe, for young people. But then alongside that, we provide a little bit of hand-holding.
We provide induction meetings and a point of contact for them at the Change Agents office – somebody who’s there to provide support, a bit of advice if things aren’t quite going to plan in the workplace. Just a bit of a sounding board, which actually I think people do quite appreciate and do definitely use.
It means they have a lot of resources to draw on and to make sure that they’re learning by doing, but they do have a bit of support there, somebody to bounce ideas off of, questions if they’re anxious or worried about something that’s happening at work, they can check in with us first, and we can help them come up with a strategy.
We found that that’s been really useful dealing with young people to let them go, let them learn on their own a little bit. But providing that extra bit of support to set them up has been really key to the success of our placement programmes.
PCI: What are some notable impacts of Change Agents UK?
Nick: We’ve now had well over 1,000 beneficiaries of our various programmes. They started their careers with Change Agents and many have gone on to pursue their careers and move onto, in many cases, impactful positions themselves. The former Chief Executive of the Green Party, he was a Change Agent. The current Ethics and Environment Manager at the National Union of Students was, too.
So we’ve got quite an extensive network of alumni with careers in the sustainability sector. Many are still in contact with us in a sort of outer ring of the organisation.
PCI: What advice do you have for aspiring job-creation-initiative starters?
Nick: Control what you can control. Don’t worry too much about the stuff that you can’t, but try and maintain that quality, maintain a strong foundation, maintain high standards for yourself and for the staff that you have and for the work that you do. Generally, good things happen off the back of that.
Jasmine: Before you set out to start a project, really know that there’s a demand, that there actually is a need.
We’re lucky to have an active network of 10,000 people, and they’re quite communicative, so we’re able to gauge with their responses to our, ‘hey is this going to work? is this approach something that is relevant? is it going to be effective for our target group?’ So we’re able to ask them that and get feedback from our network as to what kind of support they would like to see from us.
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