Youth Voice Leads the Way
Looking to support young people in Ireland, partners from Johnson & Johnson Vision Care (JJVC), Junior Achievement (JA) Ireland, Ardscoil Mhuire, Thomond Community College, University of Limerick, and Limerick Institute of Technology came together to launch the Bridge to Employment (BTE) program in Limerick, Ireland. The partners brought together 50 youth from Ardscoil and Thomond Community College to form a united cohort for the three-year program. To help increase the number of youth pursuing higher education and STEM2D (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing, and Design) careers, the partners created a multifaceted program to support academic growth, increase exposure to STEM2D sectors through hands-on work placements within J&J, and gain coaching and mentorship from dedicated J&J employee volunteers. Launching in September 2019, partners kicked off programming with an event introducing selected participants and parents to JJVC mentors.
During their first year, the BTE Limerick leadership team designed and implemented a variety of hands-on experiences for their participants as well as their teachers. Tapping into alumni, JA delivered their Career Success Programme to students, which included a JJVC mentor who was a former pupil of the school. Throughout the year, participants worked in teams and developed their communication skills. JA also held “Lunch and Learn” sessions for teachers that covered topics ranging from Skills for the Future to JJVC Hiring Methods, Interviewing, and Apprenticeships. These sessions gave teachers insight into the workings of a large, multinational corporation, as well as concrete ways in which they could help prepare of their students for such career opportunities.
Tapping into the resources and professional expertise of JJVC employees, the BTE Limerick program implemented an engaging work experience component, where youth were able to job shadow in departments such as Automation and Process Engineering. These experiences also included health and safety trainings and the chance to work in the product shop. The work experience weeks became especially meaningful for the Limerick participants, as they were the last opportunity for them to connect in person before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without skipping a beat, the BTE Limerick program partners developed virtual programming in response to COVID-19 to ensure the development, engagement, and retention of Limerick participants during the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, while other global youth programs were struggling to pivot, the Limerick team arranged for two virtual Live Surgery events on Pediatric Orthopedics and Kidney Transplants, sessions centering on Positive Mindset, “Day in the Life” videos from JJVC mentors, and a virtual Birkman career assessment with participants. One of the most exciting events was their cross-site activity with the BTE Bracknell, U.K., site, where youth from the two sites came together to learn about each other’s sites and participate in a STEM2D challenge. Throughout 2020, students gained exposure to the variety of medical careers, built their confidence in pursuing their dreams, and never stopped learning.
In 2021, BTE Limerick partners engaged in the essence of positive youth development. As they continued to design their program, they made sure to include their young people as experts in their own needs, especially during such unprecedented times. Reiterating their commitment to the BTE students, the leadership team held a session that centered on the participants identifying ways in which the BTE program could best support them. The students helped the team to understand the real challenges they were facing and the kind of supports they felt would be most beneficial to them. This input from students really helped to elevate the program design and ensure Limerick youth’s needs and interests were at the center of programming.
Going into their final year, BTE Limerick focused on preparation for post-secondary transitions. Sessions were organized at the request of students who felt that, due to COVID-19, they had not had any opportunities to visit campuses to understand more about university life. Partners provided sessions on what to expect in any third level school, including recorded lectures and sample assignments from students’ areas of interest. Sessions also targeted Motivational Skills and Study Skills, where Limerick youth were given study skills hints, tips, and tools to assist them as they prepared for their exams. Finally, JJVC provided mock interviews to help students practice for college entrance interviews, apprenticeships, and employment. Despite the initial nerves of interviewing for the first time, students received feedback from the volunteers and, by the end, they were delighted to have had the opportunity.
In the final stretch of the program, the focus shifted to 100% academic enrichment. This was again a program adaptation fully informed by the participants. BTE Limerick leadership polled students to find out what they wanted in the final six months of the program. All students agreed that they wanted academic support to help them excel in their final exams. With that, the site leadership collected all the subject areas identified and developed revision courses around them. Participants took advantage of all these additional lessons, even attending throughout holiday breaks. During the Easter vacation weeks alone, participants joined 42 revision sessions.
BTE Limerick is a clear example of how including youth’s voice in programming supports greater engagement. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Limerick site successfully pivoted from in-person to online programing and retained 100% of their students. What an accomplishment!
BTE Limerick closed out its program with its graduation ceremony and end of program celebration in May 2022, where participants, parents, and all key partners had the opportunity to reflect on BTE and celebrate the impact it has had in the lives of all involved.
Learn more about the Limerick Site here.