ENGAGE Key Cities enables collaborative action, greater learning, exchange of tools and strengthening of community engagement through employee volunteering together delivering positive impact in communities. This year the ENGAGE Campaign celebrates its 10th Anniversary and the companies of ENGAGE Frankfurt - our longest running ENGAGE Key City share their experience.
Can you tell us about the origins of ENGAGE Frankfurt?
In a joint project, local schools, businesses and the community organisation Gesellschaft für Jugendbeschäftigung e.V. (gjb; society for the employability of adolescents) have developed a job coaching programme for students at the lower end of the achievement scale to further their career prospects. By combining the business expertise of the companies with the social and educational background of gjb, the programme has had a measurable impact on the local community, as well as the employees and the students.
Where is the project at the moment?
The programme is now well established in its fifth year. During that time approx. 370 students and 500 employee volunteers have benefited in various ways. 50 volunteers took part this year providing 200 hours of volunteer time and 70 students from 4 schools benefitted.
How has the project developed?
At 26%, Frankfurt has one of the largest immigrant populations in Germany. Around one-third of unemployed people in Frankfurt are immigrants. One in seven immigrant students do not graduate from secondary school, and 16% of those children depend on welfare, compared to 10% of non-immigrant children.
This year-long programme focuses on the key skills needed to improve school students’ employment prospects. Supported by gjb, business volunteers deliver a range of practical workshops, such as CV writing and interview training. Students are invited to the companies’ offices, exposing them to a real-life environment, this combined with role-play, telephone training, mock interviews and individual feedback, ensures an all round preparation for students, enabling them to take home key skills as well as tangible outcomes, such as professional photos and a freshly crafted CV. In individual cases we have also been able to give students a taste of real life by providing internships.
Can you tell us about a key achievement of ENGAGE Frankfurt over the past decade?
In 2011 ENGAGE Frankfurt won the Generali European Employee Volunteering Award for Germany and representative of the companies and the partners in Frankfurt were invited to Berlin to receive the award from the State Minister for Families and Social Affairs, Dr Schröder.
What have been the benefits for the volunteers and for employees?
Benefits for students
- Job application skills: ‘I obtained my apprenticeship with the job application we did there’
- Exposure to a new range of experiences: ‘This was my first job interview and I did not know how to behave’
- A higher level of confidence, motivation and aspiration: ‘I realised what life can offer, if you really want it’ and, ‘I learned that I can be someone, if I want’
Benefits for volunteers
Evaluation showed that the volunteers enjoyed the opportunity to expand their own skills and experiences for the benefit of others, as well as expand their own personal networks. The overwhelming majority of the volunteers have decided to continue with the programme.
gjb was able to offer real life learning experiences for the students, enhance their own project management skills and received greater public awareness.
What do you think works really well with the programme and is there anything that does not?
We are very fortunate in that the co-operation between companies, gjb and schools takes place as equals. We each benefit from each other and share a common goal, namely to benefit the students. The discussions in our annual planning meetings are open and productive. We come up with suggestions for improvements, but perhaps more importantly, also discard ideas if they have not worked out.
Logistics remain a headache, though. While it is easy to distribute events/responsibilities on the drawing board, we encounter practical difficulties like not having enough rooms at our disposal or security requiring us not have any student wandering around unaccompanied.
Great flexibility is required as it is hard to predict how many students actually turn up on the day and we must strive to provide a good experience for both students and volunteers.
Have you noticed a change in attitude/approach from the volunteers and what do you feel has driven this?
The proportion of “repeaters” (i.e. volunteers to take part in more than one session or come back year after year) is quite substantial, which we think indicates that they (a) have enjoy the challenge and (b) feel they can make a contribution.
This is as true today as it was when we first started the programme. However, nowadays everyone is aware of the current austerity measures and thus the need for indiviuals/companies to take over some of the functions that the state used to perform, have become evident to most volunteers. In addition, CSR has become a “must” for internationally reputable companies.
Has there been a change in the CSR landscape in Germany over the last 10 years and has the ENGAGE programme reflected this?
Overall the German CRS landscape has established itself and has become a great deal more professional. Cross-sectoral projects have increased. The European Union is also seeking to promote a sort of continental Big Society, a tendency that is likely to continue at least as long as public finances continue to be stretched. Thus our ENGAGE programme has (fortunately) over time lost its innovative character.
The programme itself remains largely unchanged. In spite of educational reforms to the school system, the students themselves are still there and their needs are the same. While they are new each year, the two core modules are tried and tested. Around those modules we have tried to add value in different ways, e.g. introducing sessions that encouraged the students to think about their skills and challenges prior to applying for a job, paying for photos of the students to be taken by a professional photographer (no longer legally required but still very much in use in Germany). Some ideas worked. Some did not and were discarded.
How do you see ENGAGE Frankfurt project evolving over the next few years?
Although we hope to identify perhaps one more company to assist with the training sessions, we do not expect significant changes or extension of scope of the programme as such. The students remain and their needs remain in the foreseeable future.
The co-operation between the current “ENGAGE” companies, gjb and schools is established, all of us working towards a common goal and on equal footing. At the same time, we will have to ensure that we adjust training to keep up to date with changing trends/requirements in application processes (e.g. increase in on-line application and assessment centres) and incorporate or change modules as necessary.