All our programmes that help young people to raise their aspirations and achieve their career goals are supported by an amazing team of volunteers who selflessly give up their free time to support us on the front lines of changing young lives. Here, we are bringing you their stories.
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. When I was a senior in high school I did work experience with American Airlines (AA) and, when I graduated, they offered me a summer job as a part time airport agent. My plan was to get a degree in Human Resources (HR) and during my first two years of university I worked for AA during the summers and at Christmas. After two years, they offered me a permanent job, so I worked part time during my third year of university and full time during my final year.
I was promoted to airport supervisor about a year after graduating. Eventually, with my management experience and HR degree, I was offered a job in HR in the head office in Dallas, Texas. I started out in recruitment, hiring MBA students from top universities and professionals from a variety of backgrounds. I interviewed hundreds of people during that time.
I then moved to career development within AA, guiding people in how to move up the corporate ladder. In 1991, I was offered a six-month temporary, developmental assignment in London as the head of HR for Europe. That job ended up lasting 13 years! I then went to Paris for seven years to work as the General Manager for AA at Charles de Gaulle Airport and then returned to London as the Director of AA at Heathrow Airport. I had an amazing career with AA over 40 years.
How did you come to volunteer for Making The Leap?
Nearly six years ago, I finally retired. After about nine months of relaxing, travelling and seeing friends, I decided I needed to do something to give back. I started looking for volunteer work that would require me to use my brain, background and skills. Initially I looked at mentoring roles, but you need to be present every week to consistently support your mentee and I couldn’t commit to that. I then saw an advert for Making The Leap, seeking volunteers to deliver training modules to secondary school students. I applied and heard back very quickly.
What fascinated me the most was that Making The Leap weren’t happy to have just anyone who was willing to volunteer. Marlene invited applicants to a three-hour assessment with others to make sure they were up to standard for the volunteer roles she had! I was impressed right away. She said I could be as flexible as I liked with my volunteer hours, so it was perfect for me.
I wasn’t really aware of social mobility – I was the corporate guy for most of my life. In my career, my whole life was work and I worked 50/60-hour weeks regularly. When I finally had time to learn more about the world around me, I found it interesting. People at work had a reason to listen to me and follow orders because they were being paid, but I wasn’t sure how well I could deliver to a class of teenage students!
What is your role and what are the biggest challenges you face?
I started in September 2014. For the first three years I did training in schools, delivering the ACE programme in classrooms. Then, in 2017 Marlene asked me to take on a career coach role. Now I meet Fellows who complete the Workshop and have one-to-one meetings with them. We talk about what their career aspirations are, how to get there and how to climb the career ladder.
For a lot of them it’s about managing their expectations, guiding them on how to get started and work their way up.
What do you enjoy most about working with Making The Leap? Do you have a favourite moment?
What I’ve found is that everyone at the organisation is so committed and the results are outstanding. My biggest pleasure is when a Fellow successfully gets that first job and they’re on their way. I believe in the ability of getting yourself in, proving yourself and working your way up. I hope that I’ve had some impact in helping them to be successful.
I’ve had several wonderful moments. One story that sticks with me was a Fellow who was a qualified occupational therapist but just couldn’t get the job she wanted. She didn’t interview or present herself the best, but she was clearly knowledgeable, very capable and quite passionate. I suggested she keep aiming for her dream job but get an entry-level role to get started. She was determined and about nine months later she phoned me to say she got the role she really wanted. I was thrilled when I found out because she truly deserved it.
Why would you recommend working with Making The Leap to other people looking for volunteer work?
To see young people develop and support them in getting their first job gives you great satisfaction. So many of them have the skills and abilities to do many jobs but just need a bit of coaching on how to present themselves to potential employers. There’s also a great comradery with the other volunteers. When you go to the schools to deliver training, there are typically four or five other volunteers too. Going for a coffee afterwards or riding home on the tube is a wonderful way to debrief and learn from each other.
At Making The Leap there is a level of commitment that I admire. I worked for a huge company and worked in many different large and small teams. Considering what a small team Making The Leap is, what we achieve together is amazing – it impacts young people massively. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
If you’d like to join Michael in our fantastic team of volunteers, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You could make a real difference!
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