Aspirations won’t cut it any more…

Charly Young, CEO & Co-founder | @young_charlotte

What did you want to be when you were 16?

I wanted to be a detective. After hours solving Sudokus and cryptic crosswords, I decided that my skills of logic and deduction would be best used in the police force, solving crimes.

Luckily for me, my mum knew a police officer who I met for coffee, to talk to me about her job and my options. As it turned out, it really wasn’t for me. There was a lot I’d have to do that I didn’t want to do in order to become the ‘TV-glamourised’ detective that I’d imagined.

But I was fortunate to have a family that could provide opportunities for me to discover what it was that I wanted to do, encouragement to pursue it, and who had the knowledge to help me be successful at it.

A TES report this week claimed that encouraging high aspirations in young people is not enough. If we want to break cycles of poverty and inequality, we need to provide scaffolding to support those aspirations. We need to provide young people with opportunities and support to help them realise these.

One of my students — a bright girl, with excellent grades at GCSEs — once told me of her dreams to become a top barrister. As luck would have it, one of my good friends worked at a chamber in London and managed to secure work experience over the summer for this student. We knew that, despite good grades, to get into a top university she would need something on her CV to show both her passion and commitment.

But she didn’t turn up.

Back at school in September, she made a few excuses about having things to do, forgetting about it, needing to get a job. But after a while she admitted that she’d been terrified. What would it be like? What if she wasn’t good enough? What if she couldn’t find the office?

I realised then that an opportunity is a start, but it is not enough. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Young people — especially those for whom professional environments are foreign — need more than just the opportunity. They need support and encouragement. They need to have the confidence that they will be able to cope (nay, thrive) there. And they need some of the skills to back this up!

If we are to really help young people be ambitious and succeed, we need to provide three things:

1. Visible opportunities

2. The confidence (and encouragement) to seize them

3. The skills to access them and be successful

At The Girls’ Network, our mentors are there to walk alongside the girls we support. To encourage them to be ambitious. To highlight opportunities, absolutely. But then to help the girls build confidence in themselves and their abilities, and to begin to build some of the skills that will help them to succeed.

Some of these are skills that might seem insignificant to you and me. How to shake someone’s hand and introduce yourself, how to compose a good email, or, perhaps, how to let someone know that you’re running a bit late. (Believe me, this is an important one when working with teenagers!!)

Yet these things help the girls arrive at their work placement with confidence. And once there, to really get the most out of that opportunity.

So, let’s make sure that our young people are given the support, as well as the opportunities, that they need to be successful. And let’s make sure that this isn’t just the preserve of those who have the support and opportunities readily available at home, but a chance extended to all young people, regardless of gender, or income, or postcode.

To find out more about how to support the work of The Girls’ Network, visit

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