“We come from different places, but we all live in the same society,” says Pilar Linan Vallecillos, a business development manager for IBM in Madrid, Spain. “The opportunity we have is for each of us—the coach and the student—to enrich each other’s life with a fresh perspective about our mutual society.”
While resume writing is important for job-seeking students, Pilar’s experience reveals there’s a lot more going on in IBM’s volunteer project with Fundación Exit—a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Spain whose mission is the training and employment of at-risk young people. Pilar is part of a team of more than 75 volunteers from IBM in Spain who are committed to helping young people with a background of academic difficulty and other disadvantages become motivated to continue their education and develop work readiness skills.
Pilar’s decision to volunteer was an easy one. “When I learned about Fundación Exit, I immediately said, ‘Yes, I want to be part of this!’ Working with young adults who are at risk because of a social disadvantage speaks to my heart.”
Orientation to the possible—motivation to succeed
Started in 2007, the Project Coach program is Fundación Exit’s first step in giving young people orientation to what is possible in their lives—a reversal of the negative experiences and disappointments they may have had in school or at home.
“They are young people about 17 years old, usually with family challenges, economic difficulties, limited educational opportunities and low wages,” says Pilar, who has volunteered with Project Coach for several years and was asked to coordinate the IBM volunteers in 2012. “They face a workforce that demands a minimum level of skills which they haven't had the opportunity to develop for various reasons.”
The approach is to pair young people with adult coaches, and as Pilar describes, to simply explore possible answers to the question, “What if…?” Every Friday for six weeks, IBM volunteers get together with their students to help them develop a sense of direction. Part of the equation has IBM volunteers introduce students to the business environment—for some, the first time they’ve been in an office setting.
“The young people don't know what we do and they don’t know yet if it’s something they like or not,” says Pilar. “The idea is to give them exposure to some of the things that are possible, the motivation to define their purpose, and the interest to continue investing in their skills development—with the goal to get an official certification that gives them a greater opportunity to find a job.”
Ultimately, the goal is to motivate the students to overcome past limitations, and get them involved in specific tasks with the help of IBM volunteers, who incorporate their professional skills with the use of IBM Activity Kits such as “Work Readiness for Youth,” “Get the Job: On Paper, In Person,” and “Student Entrepreneurs.” The professional skills of the coaches, including team work, mentoring, organizational leadership, training education, and meeting facilitation, pull it all together.
Students creating a path to a better future
Pilar remembers one young woman in the Project Coach program. “She had an extremely positive attitude, was very open to learn and had a high level of commitment,” says Pilar. “But she impressed me because despite a very difficult personal situation—taking care of her little brothers and with a part time job in a kitchen—she was determined to get ahead with the program and her courses at Fundación.”
The impact of Project Coach is impressive. In a recent survey, 83% of the participating students plan to continue their studies to be better prepared for getting a job and most of that group has already decided the subjects in which they’d like to focus. About 81% of the students believe they understand how a company works and how it is organized. A staggering 99% consider the experience at Project Coach to be “excellent” or “very good” and 100% would recommend the program to others—which has served more than 400 young people in Madrid and Barcelona in its five years.
“I am really proud of our participation and to work at a company like IBM that promotes these initiatives, and of the IBM volunteers who give so much of their time and skills” says Pilar. “I’m also very proud of the students themselves who are open to creating a vision for their future.”
“We only need to show these students the possibilities and help them create realistic goals and the path to achieve them,” Pilar says. “To help others is so satisfying—it comes back to you and you receive more than you think.”
Pilar and her fellow IBM volunteers in Spain working with Fundación Exit are winners of the 2012 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award which recognizes IBM employees and teams who best exemplify the IBM values of dedication, innovation and trust through their volunteer efforts.