Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Talking Youth

Last week I went to the 'Talking Youth' event, held by the Department of Work and Pensions.

From what I understood, it was a chance for a group of 15-24 yr olds to 'have a dialogue' with business leaders about 'barriers to employment'. Seemed right up our street.

The School of Social Entrepreneurs recently provided us a workshop about networking, that awkward thing you're supposed to do during the slots in events when organisers couldn't find enough panelists to fill time. Networking is basically just a pretentious word for 'chatting'. It becomes awkward at the point when you want to talk to someone who doesn't particularly want to talk to you. Or vice versa.

One of the things I'm trying to train myself to do as a startup-founder is get comfortable with awkward conversations and endure things I don't particularly want to do (like living in a constant state of anxiety and justifying to my girlfriend why 75kg of flour needs to be in the kitchen at all times). I figured that approaching the big dogs at the Talking Youth conference would be a good place to start.

Piers Linney was chatting with a senior exec from Microsoft who looked a bit like Where's Wally. At SSE they told me to 'read the body language' and decide if it was 'open' or 'closed'. An arbitrary call to make, you'll appreciate. I shuffled towards them trying to look unassuming and friendly. They were talking about an email thread they'd been sending each other. It irked me that they were here in a room full of young people, to give advice about employment to young people, and here they were talking about emails. With closed body language! I gritted my teeth and went in.

Within 10 seconds of me saying "really sorry to interrupt you guys, can I just tell you about...." I knew I'd lost them. Piers told me that when it came to charity, "he was doing his own thing". Where's Wally said I should speak to McDonalds. And with that, they were gone.  (In fairness, I later spoke with Piers at more length. He's a really nice guy, but still doesn't want to help us with The Dusty Knuckle.)

The event itself turned out to be a room full of graduates asking about how to get on apprenticeship schemes when you're over-qualified. Never once were criminal records mentioned, or mental ill-health, or lack of basic qualifications. It left me feeling pretty bereft of ideas for what to suggest to those young people. What the @#?! are they meant to do? I frantically sat there tweeting, determined to get the most of my 7% battery left. (#talkingyouth).

So in a roundabout sort of a way, I'm glad I attended the event. I stomached some awkward networking, made friends with someone in the DWP, ate sandwiches and fruit sticks but, most importantly, I reinforced my conviction of the need for organisations like The Dusty Knuckle.


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