Volunteering to show students a world beyond their expectations

Abul is a former student from Oldham Sixth Form College and has been volunteering there for a number of years with Future First.

For the last 20 years, I’ve worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car and I’m now an HR manager. In my volunteering role with the school, I try and do everything I can to help the students’ employability skills. I talk to them about my own career and how I made the transition from an A level student into the world of work and the kind of obstacles and challenges I faced. On top of that, I help them with more practical things like mock interviews, help with CVs and simulating assessment days they may face in the future.

After I left sixth form college, I went to the University of Manchester to study English and Linguistics and from there went to Manchester Business School to do a Postgraduate Diploma in International Business with Spanish. Then I joined the graduate scheme at Enterprise.

When I first went to university I was interested in writing as a career and I was particularly keen on becoming a sports journalist. But that faded while I was studying for my degree and I stuck to what I enjoyed doing, which was sales and marketing. I had various part-time jobs in retail and quite enjoyed the buzz of dealing with customers, so ended up with Enterprise as a result.

We didn’t have any alumni support when I was at Oldham. We had one careers adviser who helped me with my university form, but that was my only interaction with the careers service about my future prospects! I wish there had been more support and that was one of the reasons I went back to volunteer. I felt compelled to give students the opportunity that I never got and if that tiny fraction of help from me does help, then that’s great.

I think I make a stronger connection with the students because I’m from an ethnic minority background like the majority of them. It’s important they see people who look like them and who they can relate to for making similar journeys and facing similar challenges.

Things have changed though. When I went to university only about 10 students from the sixth form were taking that route, most went into work. That was the expectation in the community at the time. Now far more expect to go onto higher education. What students often need now is the help to navigate life in higher education. Many of the students will have been in a bit of a cultural bubble. It was the same for me and I found it hard to make the adjustment at university, which was much more diverse and very alien. I think it really helps to be able to give students an idea of how they can go beyond their comfort zone – and that’s a big part of why I volunteer.

Find out more about volunteering with Future First and sign up to your former school network now.