Lockdown has been a very challenging time for young people who are looking to start their dream careers; especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.

Opportunities to train, network, and find new jobs play a crucial role in preventing inequality gaps from rising, but they have also been massively reduced during this time.

As part of our #BeyondCOVID appeal, our professional mentors have done a fantastic job in maintaining their support for young people despite the implications of COVID-19.

Chris Turner is one such volunteer mentor, who has managed to adapt his support for young people by offering virtual sessions. Learn more about Chris and how he has continued to be a mentor during lockdown below:

Can you tell us who you are, a little bit about you, and your professional background?

I’m Chris Turner and I moved to Malmesbury from London 12 years ago. It’s about 20 miles from Bristol. I have two children and my wife and I wanted to give them a better quality of life. I’ve worked in Marketing most of my professional life and I’m now a Marketing Strategy consultant. Before I became a consultant I mainly worked for media companies including Discovery Communications, owners of the Discovery Channel and Eurosport.

When did you first become a mentor at Babbasa, and what inspired you to do so?

I first became a mentor at Babbasa in November last year. I met Poku at a networking event in Bristol and decided to find out more. What Babbasa is doing really struck a nerve for me.

I was very fortunate when I was young to have had access to opportunity. I lived in an ordinary area in West London, my parents had divorced and my Mum worked two jobs to support me and my two brothers.

We were able to get local council support to go to a selective school and this made a huge difference to our education. I went on to university (my older brother was the first person in our entire family to get to university) and this opened up opportunities for me I would not have had otherwise.

Poku says ‘talent is evenly distributed but opportunities are not’ and I decided to see if I could help even this out.

What problems do you think young people are facing while trying to start their first career role right now?

There is a structural issue for young people. If you go to a school which has little experience of people getting to top universities or into internships, there is no support network or resource to help talented people do this, so fewer of them do.

Unpaid internships have also been a way for people to break into certain sectors, especially creative sectors, but only young people with rich parents can afford an unpaid internship. In my view, they should actually be illegal; they are certainly immoral. If you’re doing valuable work a company is benefiting from, you should get paid!

It is also an incredibly competitive world. When so many young people go into higher education, having a degree is not the differentiator it used to be. So how does someone stand out? Well, getting work experience or internships is one way but what if you cannot afford to do this for free or don’t know who is offering something or how to find information about it?

Unfortunately, there is also still a culture of choosing someone who is already connected in some way, so a relative or recommendation from someone known to the recruiter. This has the effect of locking out some people from these opportunities and reducing diversity.

COVID-19 has only added to these problems as companies cut down on every expense, including recruitment.

Do you think professionals can support young people to overcome those challenges during this time? How so?

Unquestionably yes.

Anyone who has been in business for more than a couple of years has experienced recruitment from both sides, applying for jobs themselves and recruiting people. So you know what makes a good CV and what to include in a covering letter, as well as how to look at opportunities from the recruiters point of view, and what to do to make yourself stand out.

Young people sometimes see their CV as an opportunity to tell their life story but it’s simply a means to get you an interview. I encourage young people to emphasise the things that make that more likely to happen and leave out everything that doesn’t. Carefully review what the recruiter is looking for and make sure they see this very clearly.

Mentors tend to be experienced people and can take a more considered view of a young person’s situation than perhaps a parent or friend.

Every professional also has a network of people who know and trust them so you can be the person recommending someone.

Has lockdown affected how you’ve been able to provide mentoring? How and why? What have you/your mentee done to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic?

It obviously means we can’t meet or go into the Babbasa office which is definitely a limitation. It is great to spend time face-to-face. Of course, everyone’s turned to online video; in our case Skype and Zoom. This works pretty well and means we don’t have to travel anywhere to meet up.

It also means companies are not recruiting or doing work experience or internships, so opportunities are not there that were there before lockdown. This means we haven’t been working on any actual job applications. There is still opportunity out there but it is much more limited than it was 3 months ago. We try and keep positive and look on our sessions as a break from the norm and something to look forward to.

Talking regularly is important. It would be easy to get discouraged during the lockdown as there is so much negative news. Young people are generally doing OK if they happen to catch the virus but the economic and social impact is greater on young people than any other age group. So we talk about how we’re feeling and hopefully find something to laugh about.

How successful has this been?

It’s been fine but it will be great when we can meet face-to-face again. Of course, we haven’t managed to make as much progress with the objectives we set ourselves because companies are not recruiting or offering work experience.

With that being said, there are still ways we can support each other. We’ve been doing work on CVs, there is nearly always something that can be improved, and looking at ways to improve employability when the economy improves. There is a ton of training available for free at the moment, like webinars, conferences, online talks, so if I see something appropriate, I send the link.

Likewise if I read or see something I think is interesting, I send it over and my mentees do the same for me. It’s not just a one-way street!

You’ve been doing some additional projects with Beth during lockdown. Would you be able to tell us what you’ve been up to?

Beth has autism. Pre-Covid, we talked about how we could change perspectives on this and the strengths it gives her. She feels comfortable in predictable settings, has a strong eye for detail and likes tasks with clear definitions.

I have been working with a construction company rebuilding their website. They want to include 85 individual construction projects on the site and each of these has between 5 and 9 specific pieces of data which needed to be added to the site.

I asked Beth if she’d like to work on this task and she completed it with a pretty amazing level of accuracy. That’s somewhere around 600 individual data points including numbers, industry jargon and unusual spellings and I think I found 5 typos in total!

I am also working with a Director-level Membership organisation which needs new content added daily to its social media feeds. Beth already had some social media experience so we began working on this together.

She has proved very reliable, not just in terms of posting regularly but following the ground rules for making the activity effective. She has now taken over the company’s Twitter feed and used her own initiative to add new content into the feed.

I will very happily be a referee for her when she applies for other work.

Has being part of the mentoring scheme benefitted you throughout this period? If so, how and why?

Definitely. I’m mentoring two bright, ambitious people who both look at the world differently than I do. I have learnt from them and every conversation I have with them is refreshing. It energises me to help them and think of creative ways around the current lockdown restrictions so that their professional ambitions don’t have to be put on hold.

As we all know, there has also been a second issue dominating the news lately and Bristol has been at its heart. Equality of opportunity is key to meeting the daily challenges of discrimination and if I can make even a small difference, this would be very satisfying.

What would you say to other professionals who are considering working with Babbasa?

Just do it. There are some really talented people who can benefit from your knowledge, experience and network. If things go well, you can literally change someone’s life and give them tools and ideas that will continue to be valuable. But more than that, you will learn, grow and develop yourself. Come to it with an open mind, listen and be prepared to challenge your own preconceptions. It can be very rewarding!