Taking Advantage of the Advantage Programme

Care leavers are 38% more likely to drop out of university than their peers. Those who make it through the other end often find themselves standing at a cliffs edge with no support network to rely on as they try to navigate life after university. The Office for National Statistics estimates that almost one-third of British graduates move back in with their parents after graduation. Care-experienced graduates don’t have that option. They need to find the means to support themselves when it’s time to leave student halls. That’s where our Advantage Programme comes in; equipping them with the networks, skills, and confidence needed to compete on today’s graduate job market. Our programme aims to enable those young people transition from university into a career of their own choice.

Lola is from the London borough of Merton and was studying Accounting and Finance at Kingston University when she heard about the Advantage Programme. She first tried to join the programme through the council but since Merton did not have a service agreement with Drive Forward Foundation (DFF) she didn’t receive a response. However, since the programme works directly with universities, Beth Taswell from Kingston University was able to refer Lola to DFF and open the door to all the services available. Lola was relieved when she was able to join the programme because she knew that work experience, in addition to her degree, would really help her gain employment after university.

Lola remembers what the future looked like before she knew about the Advantage Programme:

“I went into care at about 15 or 16... I wanted to do Accounting originally and have my own business but... It was so tough trying to find this experience all by myself; I felt scared but didn’t want to give up. I just thought I want to do my degree and get out as it was too hard to find any placements so I thought I might have to just leave the placement.”

DFF met Lola in March 2021; she not only secured her internship but she also benefitted from DFF’s tailor made workshops, insight sessions with corporate partners and additional work placements. Lola attended CV building sessions with Baringa Partners, who then extended an offer to her for a two-week placement with their finance department. With that experience under her belt, Lola went on to complete a one-week placement with Lloyds Bank.

The placements helped me open my mind; I took everything day by day... I now know how to behave with professionals…Doing a placement means you can learn without putting pressure on yourself and people understand you are still learning. University has been quite isolating and you only speak to your friends really.

Adding the jewel to the crown,

DFF’s partners at The Crown Estate designed a bespoke work placement that allowed Lola to acquire the 300 working hours needed in order to equate to a full university module. Over a two-months period, Lola dived further into the working world learning about the skills required for finance:

I learnt the software and how to operate it…I can now see how this knowledge relates to the job. TCE provided me with a step by step guide and I was not left by myself to complete tasks. I was doing real work.

Lola’s Line Managers Winta and Callum from the Crown Estate were pleased with her work ethic and enthusiasm to learn. However, with any placements, insight sessions or events organised by DFF, support is key and Winta ensured Lola was well taken care of: 

"We had a timetable set up for Lola to experience the different aspects of finance, treasury, tax and accounts so she can make an informed decision about her future. We supported her with step by step learning so not to overwhelm her with too much information. We catered for her level, but then steadily challenged Lola as we went along. We introduced her to various software, e-comms with external and internal stakeholders. Exactly what she would do if she was officially working here."

Callum was particularly impressed with:

“her positive attitude, willingness to learn and she was not afraid to ask questions. Even if she needed to ask more than once which is great. From her first tasks here, she has picked things up like accounts software very quickly. Lola is really confident and I admire this.”

Lola (centre) at The Crown Estate with Callum (Left) and Winta (right)

As Covid-19 restrictions eased further, it meant that Lola was able to attend TCE’s offices two days per week; allowing her to build closer relationships with her co-workers and experience an office atmosphere.

This meant, however, that Lola was facing travel costs exceeding £200 a month; a cost that she was unable to bear. Knowing of the financial pressure care-experienced people are under when starting out in their careers, Drive Forward created a fund in 2015. The Closing the Gap fund aims to enable young people to focus on their learning and experience rather than having to decide between travel and lunch. Thus, DFF was able to support Lola with her travel, whilst TCE agreed to pay a London Living Wage and provide lunch.

“Without you I don’t think I would have been able to complete the placement.”

Many care-experienced young people are unsure of where to turn to for help especially when they have been phased out of the care system. Over 2,000 young people in London alone leave care every year ill-equipped for the challenges that await them. They lack the skills, confidence and support to successfully manage their transition into adulthood and independence. DFF want to be there to provide the support and services for care-experienced young people need to succeed. “It is hard, I need to go out and do it by myself without family support but Drive Forward have been there with that support and guidance and they help me know how to go about it. It can be so daunting doing this on your own.”

Rachel Neuer, Employment Consultant

Rachel Neuer

An Employment Consultant at DFF identified the need for The Advantage Programme: “We work closely with local authorities and virtual schools, but many of our partnerships were offering experiences where we felt university students could really benefit from. Reaching out to universities allowed us to access more young people who were ready for this kind of help.”

The Advantage Programme enabled Lola to access the networks, support, and training she needed to prepare her for a smooth transition from university into a meaningful career.

Rachel says, “Lola is now going to graduate with some great ‘advantages’ which will definitely give her the edge in the job market and with the practical knowledge and insight about what kind of jobs she wants to pursue.”

“I would recommend Drive Forward Foundation to other people as many care leavers will miss out; but this help really guides you to meet your goals and be open minded. I still want to learn more and have more experiences, maybe also learn about running my own business in the future.”
Lola
Drive Forward Young Person

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