Forget McJob - Aim for a Life with the Blue Chips ; Mentoring Is One of the Big Ideas of New Labour. Lucy Hodges Looks at How Ethnic Minority Students at Greenwich University Are Fulfilling Their Dreams

By Hodges, Lucy | The Independent (London, England), June 14, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Forget McJob - Aim for a Life with the Blue Chips ; Mentoring Is One of the Big Ideas of New Labour. Lucy Hodges Looks at How Ethnic Minority Students at Greenwich University Are Fulfilling Their Dreams


Hodges, Lucy, The Independent (London, England)


One of Tony Blair's themes in the election was how to turn ordinary Brits into entrepreneurs, people who aim high, seize their opportunities and contribute to the greater good of UK plc. He will be gratified, therefore, with a scheme at the University of Greenwich which tries to put black and ethnic minority graduates in a position to fulfil their dreams.

Concern about racial discrimination in the workplace has been with us ever since the SS Empire Windrush docked at Southampton in 1948. It was given added impetus earlier this year when official figures showed that ethnic minority graduates had significantly lower employment rates than whites. Last year, 94.1 per cent of graduates were in work or further training or study six months after leaving university. But for black African graduates the figure was 87 per cent, for black Caribbeans 90.7 per cent and for Bangladeshi and Pakistanis 88.4 per cent and 89 per cent respectively.

To attempt to crack that phenomenon, Greenwich introduced a mentoring scheme, matching ethnic minority students with highfliers in the City and elsewhere. The hope was that this would persuade black students to lift their sights above the McJobs that had mostly been their experience hitherto and to aspire to careers as managers in blue-chip companies and government departments. One of the problems faced by ethnic minority students is discrimination; but another is that they don't believe in themselves.

By having a mentor who talks to them, nurtures them, shows them how to write CVs and application forms, and how to conduct an interview, the students find themselves growing in self-confidence and able to negotiate a world that until then has been scarily unfamiliar. The mentors take a close interest in how students are performing in their studies, something they may not have experienced before; they visit the university to see their charges in their own environment; and they invite them to their own offices for periods of work-shadowing. Sometimes the relationship pays off handsomely: students have moved on to jobs in their mentors' organisations when they graduate; others have secured summer work placements with investments banks such as HSBC and Goldman Sachs.

"The input from mentors can make a real difference to students, both in their degree and when they enter the job market," says Beverley Crooks, mentoring co-ordinator. "An economics student came to me with a big dilemma - whether to accept a place on an MA programme at Cambridge or a job with the United Nations in New York. His mentor had really opened his eyes to issues in the news, in this case, the banana trade war, which he was able to incorporate into his exam - with great success."

The Greenwich scheme, which has been running for seven years, has begun to show some good results: the employment rates of black students has improved, according to Rosalind Street-Porter, head of student services. In 1999, ethnic minority students were three times more likely than whites to be unemployed on graduation; in 2000 they were only twice as likely. "We would not argue that this is a direct result of the mentoring, but mentoring is one of a number of initiatives we have in place to address the employment problem and it is contributing to the improvement," she says.

There are 25 mentors volunteering to give up their time to work with Greenwich students, including bank managers, army and police officers, lawyers, information technology consultants, and senior civil servants.

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Forget McJob - Aim for a Life with the Blue Chips ; Mentoring Is One of the Big Ideas of New Labour. Lucy Hodges Looks at How Ethnic Minority Students at Greenwich University Are Fulfilling Their Dreams
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