Rhys’ experience on the GO Wales Graduate Academy

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The GO Wales Graduate Academy (http://www.gowales.co.uk/en/Graduate/graduateacademy) is kicking off again in 2014 with the closing date for the first one on the 7th of January! Rhys Tyler, a participant on the course in 2013 tells us of his experience with the programme and how he has benefited from taking part. Then we have some top tips from Graduate Academy Coordinator, Gwen Adams, on how to make a successful application for the scheme. And now, over to Rhys!

The much-revered American author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker, Seth Godin is famously quoted in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us as stating that ‘a tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea’. This declaration is a perfect summation of my experience as a participant on the GO Wales Graduate Academy programme. We all entered the fray as it were – or at least that was what we all initially thought! – and yet, after no time, we gelled, connected and matured as aspiring managers and leaders, and most of all, as people. This ‘fray’, then, rapidly became a forum, a free-thinking venture for like-minded graduates all uncertain about their respective futures.

As a postgraduate student with no proven business acumen and admittedly no inherent or natural flair for all things business, I first approached the GO Wales Graduate Academy course with trepidation, dreaming up ideas of Apprentice-style personages and situations. However, such uncertainty and ludicrous ruminations quickly dissipated. This was not a group of talkers or hard-sellers, rather, we were doers; a creative, open-minded collective all with an unrelenting desire to learn, improve, and crucially, listen, in a professional, business-oriented environment. When I use the word ‘creative’, I mean that many of us had come from arts-focussed backgrounds and thus felt a little uncomfortable about the prospect of what we deemed to be a world that was the total opposite of what we were accustomed to. How were we to make the jump, or leap of faith so to speak, from the flowery, vaguer world of the arts to a relatively competitive, pressurised, clear-cut environment such as the corporate one? Well, again, as with our initially-tainted and false perceptions of each other, we had developed pretences or snapshots about the entire business world; essentially, not everyone in business thinks in black and white and not everyone is or has to be a hard-nosed, unforgiving salesperson. On the contrary, the underlying message that we really deciphered from the ILM course was that there is a growing need for businesspeople – whatever their title or position – to prioritise flexibility, discussion and creativity within their companies’/corporations’/organisations’ workflow.

As just one of thousands upon thousands attempting to wade through the torrent of graduate students leaving University with the ‘fear’ of no employment and without a future ‘project’ or ‘direction’, the GO Wales Graduate Academy scheme provided me with the perfect remedy; a sense of belonging, and crucially, as emphasised by Dale Carnegie’s celebrated admission, with ‘the deepest principle in human nature [which] is the craving to be appreciated.’

The success of the GO Wales Graduate Academy initiative relies on its dedicated staff, from the chief co-ordinators Gwen Adams and Jane Burtenshaw-Jones, to its two main ILM course tutors, Jane Baker and Sue Holder, through to its various guest speakers including the likes of education consultant, Rod Ashley, and BBC Wales journalist and newsreader, Garry Owen. From the inception of the June 2013 course, none of the 18 participants ever felt left out of a single activity. We were all made to feel important and valued since course co-ordinators, tutors, and speakers would devote time to all 18 of us. Taking an interest in someone else and focusing the conversation on them costs nothing; it should become a daily, requisite task in every person’s life! Such an action makes all the difference between feeling included and engaged or isolated and demotivated in life.

This sense of inclusion and belonging continued throughout my work experience placement at Wolfestone Translation Ltd. based in Swansea, where I spent 2 weeks in the company’s Marketing Department and another 2 weeks in its HR Department. Above all, what impressed me about my time at Wolfestone was my work experience mentors’ (namely one of the company’s 2 CEOs and Co-founders, Anna Bastek, the Marketing Manager, Arek Estall and the HR Manager, Emma Hughes) abilities to quickly and effectively highlight my skills and competencies and slot me into relevant, challenging, and engaging tasks. From the first time I entered Wolfestone’s offices, they instilled a confidence in me through the responsibilities that they afforded me. Despite my lack of previous knowledge and expertise in the business domains of Marketing and HR, I was heavily-involved in many of the company’s induction training sessions for new employees, in the company’s meetings including discussions surrounding the company’s future marketing strategies as well as being directly consulted for my opinions and advice on improving the website itself and having input in the re-drafting process of the company’s various policies. On top of this, I was entrusted with the task of producing independent market research, customer satisfaction, and data analysis reports in addition to accompanying and assisting the company’s HR Manager, Emma Hughes, in a Careers Wales interview practice day for 15-16 year olds at a Comprehensive School based in Swansea. Such trust and responsibility bred confidence in my own ability, and more significantly, enthusiasm and passion to work to better myself and Wolfestone Translation Ltd.

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Reverting to the initial 2 week period that takes place in Lampeter, the GO Wales Graduate Academy programme’s emphasis on assessment centre-oriented team-building activities was complimented by the fact that, as a group, we did not need ice-breaker activities. Because we had all come from the same boat with similar degree backgrounds and experiences – out of work, slightly disillusioned and dispirited, and without direction – there was an instant connection, a mutual respect and understanding in the cohort.

Before participating in the Graduate Academy course, I had never witnessed or been part of such effective teamwork strategies. I now appreciate the situation we faced as individuals being thrown together in a room and on a campus for the first time. Imagine an interview or assessment centre setting; imagine your first day at a new job; imagine your first day playing for a local football team you have just joined. Are these not similar real-life scenarios in the workplace and at leisure!? One of the key strengths of the GO Wales Graduate Academy programme is therefore the fact that it serves as a useful and practical litmus test for self-analysis:

Where am I now? Where do I want to be? How can I get to that position in my life?

Whether it is during the group activities in the initial two-week course in Lampeter or it is during the work placement itself in the various and daily teamwork and team-building situations, you will gradually peel back your own layers, finding out about yourself:

Who are you really?

By the end of the course you will be able to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses and your potential, future opportunities and threats. Since you are constantly interacting with people who do not know you as friends or acquaintances, you will receive honest, forward-thinking and constructive feedback. For instance, upon the completion of a group task in Lampeter where half the team was blindfolded and we had to win a race (against the other group) using a ball and pushing it through two pipes (connecting them, disconnecting them and joining them up), I discovered that I had naturally taken up a position as communicator, helping to facilitate the transmission of verbal and physical messages. Having won the task, my teammates praised me for keeping the team focused on the task at hand and thus I realised that I could be an effective motivator.

Conversely, at the end of my work placement at Wolfestone, I received feedback suggesting ways of improving my listening skills. I was advised that it was in my interests to devote much more time to listening in any given communicative situation. Following this, I decided to ask friends and family about my listening habits, and in doing so and with recordings of myself, one of my innumerable blind spots was confirmed! Since then, I have worked tirelessly to talk less and listen more attentively, and I have also made a conscious effort to improve my own self-awareness and regularly ask people for feedback. If I have learnt anything throughout the GO Wales Graduate Academy process, it is that progression depends almost entirely upon constructive and detailed feedback from others. OK yes folks, the latter statement is a truism but I feel it necessary to repeat it since people will all too often forget it! In this age of the instant driven by a generation obsessed with clicking, flickr-ing, commenting, liking, sharing, whatsapping, and snapchatting, and with statuses, posts, and tweets galore, now more than ever we absolutely must revert to detail, reflection, and a deep pause! No balance between the instant and the pause is unhealthy!

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The GO Wales Graduate Academy programme is an engaging platform and connection between a degree and the next desired career move. Of course, RE graduates immediately slipping into their dream jobs, it really is worth remembering the old adage that this does not happen instantly! Patience is a virtue; be/remain philosophical!

What this particular scheme does is help you underline your expertise and how it can be channelled into potential, future career pathways and the scheme also highlights possible areas for further improvement. If there is one thing I do want you to take away from this article, though, it is this: the GO Wales Graduate Academy course enables you to break free from the clichés that might plague graduates’ minds about business in general or certain jobs! I shall now come full circle by synthesising two Godin (2008) quotes ‘Perfect is an illusion, one that was created to maintain the status quo… The longer you wait to launch an innovation, the less your effort is worth.’ The Graduate Academy advocates the need for constant self-reflection: dig deep, embrace and promote change in yourself, others, and society and do not strive for perfection as you will always end up sobbing into your lukewarm cup of Tetley-fuelled tea!

To sum up, then, the GO Wales Graduate Academy programme has given me more direction and a renewed enthusiasm for everything and anything in this world. I am so incredibly grateful for having been accepted onto one of the programmes. More importantly, though, the scheme has left me with 3 principles to which I now make every effort to strictly adhere daily:

1)      Smile!

Always embrace and enjoy every opportunity or experience that presents itself: always smile and put things into perspective in the context of the world and global affairs! Accept change and uncertainty!

2)      Listen! Listen again! Listen some more!

It is all too easy to think about yourself and what is in it for you! Do NOT adopt this approach! Always consider everything from the perspective of others: what are their viewpoints? Others always have more to contribute than you and not vice-versa! Adopt this attitude!

3)      Creativity = key to staying ahead of the game!

Always strive for innovative and new methods or solutions whatever the context: habits are lovely, comfort is easy, and fixed, efficient solutions are wonderful but the world will not wait for you; the world will move on and leave you aeons behind! Who knows when and where the next Mac or Facebook-style phenomenon will come from!? When it happens, it will take off in milliseconds in this age of the instant!

Read voraciously and always read about new, different subjects. Keep trying new things to stay out of your comfort zone!

Gwens Adams, the GO Wales Graduate Academy Coordinator gives us her top tips for making an application to the programme.

Top tips for a Graduate Academy application    

  1. Make sure the CV that you upload as part of the application is up-to-date and no longer than 2 sides of A4 (i.e. follow our instructions!).
  2. Make us feel confident that you’ve read all of the available information about the Academy, including the case studies, and fully understand what the programme involves and what you can gain from completing it. Don’t just say you want to get a job from completing the Academy; think wider than this. There are many potential programme outcomes that could contribute to career success.
  3. Convey your desire to complete and learn from all elements of the programme – the training, the work experience (if full-time), the ILM assessment and qualification – not just one or some of them.
  4. If you’re applying to a full-time Academy, be realistic – and flexible – about potential work experience hosts and demonstrate that you’ve given some thought to where you would like to / could go (location and sector). Don’t be too narrow in your thinking, or too broad!
  5. Tell us if you can’t make any dates during the published interview schedule, either in your application or by contacting us directly if the closing date has passed.