How Manchester’s State Talking charity is inspiring school children

Frances Kennedy, founder of State Talking

Frances Kennedy, founder of State Talking - Credit: Archant

Frances Kennedy’s charity State Talking, is just the job when it comes to connecting school students with role models

I set up the State Talking charity at the beginning of 2020, to connect Greater Manchester state school students with relatable, locally-based, career role models.

While Covid put paid to my initial intention to take inspirational talks and Q&A sessions into school halls, I have temporarily moved State Talking’s offer online so it can continue during the pandemic.

Local heroes, from Cold Feet actor and comedian John Thomson to chef Mary-Ellen McTague (Aumbry/ The Creameries), are among 90 speakers with a local connection who have so far signed up to deliver exclusive talks.

Not all speakers are high profile and I was determined to give equal weight to people in key worker roles: a Christie Hospital nurse and police officer both talk openly about how they made it in their chosen careers.

It was while editing footage of John Thomson that I realised quite how profound it can be when a young person first encounters someone who truly inspires them. John’s eyes lit up when he recalled a clown’s visit to his primary school. He said he could vividly remember his sense of wonder as the performer applied make-up in front of the class, gradually transforming himself from an ordinary looking man.

Just as in John’s case, a student doesn’t have to know a role model well – or even meet them at all – for them to have a huge and positive impact on their aspirations and career choices.

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The saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see” and I absolutely believe this holds true, as do our sponsors, Cheadle Hulme School and construction firm Russell WBHO.

A 2020 study by the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development found that while most 15-year-olds have an idea about the type of work they want to do, a third of them cite one of only 10 occupations. These include teacher, doctor, lawyer, vet, hairdresser, sportsperson, journalist, mechanic and business manager.

And while all of these are admirable professions, there is a problem: students often name these careers simply because they are the ones that are familiar to them. Some may know a teacher, or doctor, or lawyer as a relative or family friend. Others, from less advantaged backgrounds, will still have come into contact with people who fulfil these roles.

But in selecting only from these well-known jobs, students are basing their aspirations on a very limited (and not always realistic) set of choices, and are failing to see the full spectrum of options available to them.

The rise of automation, as well as inevitable long-term changes that will result from the pandemic, mean that the world of work is evolving at a considerable pace. People qualified in robotics engineering, cloud computing, data science and epidemiology will be increasingly in demand. But how can talented young people in our area aspire to take on these roles if they have never heard of them?

State Talking wants to use its platform to introduce school students to the breadth of amazing career opportunities there are in Greater Manchester and Cheshire. Pupils from deprived areas are unlikely to leave the city and I want to show them that this doesn’t need to limit their horizons. There are myriad options in so many sectors – both traditional and emerging – right here on their doorstep. u If you would like to volunteer as a school speaker with State Talking, you can contact Frances Kennedy at View the talks on YouTube at StateTalking Manchester

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