Reverse Careers Fair Success!
Weston College hosted its first ever ‘Reverse Careers Fair’ at the beginning of this month, as part of My Future Month, for the learners with SEND within the Faculty of Inclusive Practice (FIP).
Each student created poster boards showcasing themselves, their accolades and their skills, for employers from across the South West to review and find potential new members of their workforce.
We caught up with Nina Sinclair, the Lead Employment Navigator for Autism, who co-ordinated the event. She told us about the success and process of the reverse careers fair:
“We knew this was an important event to arrange for the leaners within the faculty. In my experience of attending the ‘normal’ job fairs, it’s really apparent that it’s not accessible. Yes, it’s physically accessible to some degree, but when you take into account the sensory and social demands, the layout and navigating, and the confidence it takes to put yourself in front of an employer in that manner, you realise that someone who is neurodivergent could find that incredibly difficult, particularly when they are trying to put their best self forward. Because of the impact that this can have, it almost feels as though they are competing with people who don’t have those barriers, and it struck me as being extremely unfair.
We heard about reverse career fairs previously and had wanted to implement something similar for learners with SEND during My Future Month, to support their progression of careers and employability. The idea of creating the poster boards seemed ideal, as the learners are still able to showcase their talents to employers, without needing to talk directly to them, or even be in the room if it felt too demanding on the day.
Furthermore, we felt flipping around the ‘traditional’ layout of a careers event would allow the employers to feel more approachable and human to the learners, and encourage those meaningful conversations that can lead to brilliant outcomes.
We knew we had to take the leap and arrange this inspiring event to take place following the constant learner feedback that we receive, including struggling to access community and college wide events, as well as virtual ones.
As a college, we’ve been offering Inclusive Employer workshops, to educate and improve employer’s understanding of inclusivity towards becoming more neurodivergence within their business, and potential employees too. We took this chance to self-reflect and practice what we preach within the college, to improve upon what we deliver to learners with SEND.
When considering which employers to invite to this event, we wanted to ensure it was bespoken to the learners showcasing themselves. To achieve this, we found out from the learners which area and industry they would like to work in, and then asked the Business Growth Team to reach out to employers which fit the description and invite them along. We then knew which employer to direct to which learner or poster board, to encourage conversations with meaningful outcomes for both participants.
As well as the employers which attended, we also had some representatives from the college’s Apprenticeships Team to present to the learners that they also have that option, but also to present to the apprenticeship team that even though our learners may require extra support in some areas, they are strong candidates for apprenticeships.
Something we desperately wanted to avoid was the idea that this would be ‘segregating’ the learners with SEND from the other learners. In order to combat this, we purposely planned this event for a week after Careers Fest, a more ‘traditional’ careers fair held by the college. If the learners attended Careers Fest but felt overwhelmed, they knew they had the Reverse Careers Fair which would be better suited to their needs, but still allow the opportunity to talk to employers and put themselves out there.
The highlight of the event for us was before the event had even happened, walking through the classrooms of the different courses within the faculty, and seeing the learners working on their boards, seeing their excitement, and the conversations that were taking place about their employability opportunities. It was fantastic to see.
Since the event took place, we’ve had some great feedback from employers, the apprenticeship team, and learners.
One employer said: “I was able to talk to several students about career progression, job opportunities and also aspirations and all came across really positive and enthusiastic. Thank you for the invitation, and I hopefully look forward to working with your team and group in the future.”
Chloe from the Apprenticeships Team, said: “This was one of the best events we have attended to date; it gave us a chance to meet a variety of neurodiverse learners in a safe space and have meaningful conversations about how they can take their next steps to getting an apprenticeship!”
As well as this, we have employers coming back to run CV and money management workshops, and the apprenticeship team want to work closer with the faculty – we know we’re going to have strong outcomes for the learners.
We wanted to take the Weston College career strategy and adapt it to fit the needs of the learners with SEND and that’s exactly what we’ve achieved; we cannot wait for the next one! This model of best practice in SEND will be shared locally and nationally through our Centre for Excellence in SEND”
Click to find out more about the Faculty of Inclusive Practice, or how you and your business can get involved.