Nick Oakhill, Careers Manager at Soham Village College, explains the benefits of alumni in school.
Using alumni has definitely helped with some of the issues that our school faces. Due to our rural location, a lot of our students cannot see the opportunities that are out there. This is not just limited to post 16 options but also thinking about future employment. In comparison to students in cities, such as Cambridge, Soham students have limited access and awareness about career pathways and the labour market. We are conscious as a school that there are issues of social mobility in the area and we want to make students realise that there is a bigger world out there. Alumni are one part of our career programme that raise awareness and aspirations. Our former students can give confidence to our young people to look past Soham and to the wider world.
Our school is currently funded by the Careers and Enterprise Company to use Future First services. When I sat down with SLT to look through the options and opportunities the idea of an alumni network is something that immediately appealed to us. We liked the idea that the programme would not just be short term but something, that once we had in place, could benefit the school in years to come. We had never had an official alumni network so this seemed like a great opportunity.
From my own experience, as part of an alumni community for my old school, I could see the benefits of keeping in touch with former students. It could be used as a quick way of engaging with local employers and potential speakers. Also, keeping leavers part of the Soham community. The idea of an alumni network absolutely stuck out for us.
This year it was my idea to invite alumni back during National Careers Week as speakers in assemblies. When presented with the idea of an alumni programme I thought this could be a good focus. I approached our SLT and the idea was positively received. I was hoping to have alumni speak who represented a good selection of industries and roles but I also did not want to be too selective. I ideally wanted to break stereotypes and have female speakers from male dominated industries.
Through contacting the alumni network I managed to secure four speakers for the week. It was fantastic to have Fern speak on the Thursday, as an engineer working within the construction industry. It was really interesting to hear Fern speak about her setbacks and failures, particularly at university, but also how she showed resilience and overcome her issues to achieve her current successes. All the speakers were fantastic but it was especially interesting to hear from Caroline who left Soham in the 1970’s and has had a varied career in the NHS.
Before the week began I was quite anxious because although I had spoken to all the former students beforehand about expectations and outcomes; you never really know if it is going to work until they start speaking. The week of talks was a complete success! All of the speakers spoke about how they had been sitting in the exact same position as our students which really hit the mark.
I think one of the main advantages of inviting alumni to return as speakers is that they are not just a stranger returning from a particular profession but that they are a former student discussing life after Soham. They are relatable to our students which has a greater impact as the students can see themselves in the alumni. The idea that our students can sit in an assembly and realistically think “that could be me one day” is fantastic. The fact that our students can see someone overcoming a barrier that they might be experiencing, such as mental health, and that they have gone on to achieve success is great. In all the activities I organise, if I can have even one young person coming away with a boost and idea or raising their aspirations then that is a winning situation.
Our network has grown to 135 former students and I am so appreciative to them signing up. As a school we understand that people may not be available to return all the time but we are flexible for our alumni. I also send out newsletters so that our network can keep updated on school life. I would say, if you want to get involved in your old school, the opportunity is there.
Sign your school up to Future First’s alumni network here.