Dallaglio RugbyWorks is an intensive, long-term skills development programme based on rugby, through which we aim to get teenagers outside of mainstream education into sustained education, employment or training.

“People seldom improve when they have no other role model but themselves to copy.” – Oliver Goldsmith.

Many of us, without necessarily realising, have someone who we look up to and admire. Whilst these role models can change throughout life as our attitudes change, they motivate and teach us, help us overcome obstacles and have the potential to change our whole outlook on life. Whether it’s a rugby player, parent, teacher or colleague, these people have the power to influence us and our future.

For me, those on the rugby pitch were my role models at a time when, following a family tragedy, I felt completely lost and made some poor life choices. The sport and these coaches were my saviour. As I reflect on how these people have influenced me and my decisions, I wonder where I would be without them. What does someone do when they don’t have a positive influence in their life, motivating them to strive for better and overcome their weaknesses?

Unfortunately, for many young people, good role models that are attainable just don’t exist. For those who have come from a disadvantaged background, a broken and unsupportive family unit or who have been excluded from mainstream education, positive role models can be hard to come by.

On the Dallaglio RugbyWorks programme, we regularly see young people who have grown up experiencing negative relationships with adults, leaving them with a deep-seated sense of mistrust. This results in them often filling this gap with negative influences, which can easily lead them astray. They unfortunately let their experiences become the basis for their future expectations. For those without a role model or positive influence, it can be difficult to follow the right path.

Recent research by the Prince’s Trust found that one in four young people feel unsafe where they live. However, interestingly, when asked what could help reduce levels of youth violence, 71% said stable employment opportunities, along with more positive role models. But what if we combined employment opportunities and positive role models? Programmes such as the Prince’s Trust and Dallaglio RugbyWorks can offer positive role models in the form of mentors or coaches, but I believe businesses can play a very important role in shaping and encouraging these young people too.

Regardless of whether it’s an office manager or a CEO, having a role model in a work setting can be extremely powerful. Meeting someone you admire at the early part of your career, can give you the motivation to aspire for bigger and better things. It gives you someone to emulate.

Many people look up to a celebrity or someone they may never meet, but for the young people on our programme, meeting someone successful in the workplace can be incredibly inspirational. Seeing their passion, focus and success up close and realising they are just like them in many ways, can truly inspire and change the path of a young person’s future and show them the opportunities open to them. To these youths, many jobs can seem out of reach. But by simply taking the time to understand their interests, barriers can be broken down and they start to build a brighter future.

This is something I’ve seen first-hand. I recently met Tom, a year 11 student on our programme who attended a career taster day with Halfords. Tom had previously stated his goal was to own a motor garage. However, he had limited experience in the trade and was not accepted on the Vehicle Maintenance course at school, leading him to feel disillusioned.

However, following the career taster day, it was so refreshing to witness Tom speaking so passionately and with genuine interest about the day's activities. Feeling inspired by what he’d seen and heard, Tom personally and proactively approached the Halfords manager about the possibility of work experience with them. This experience has further strengthened his desire to own a motor garage one day, so much so in fact, he has attended additional work experience days at Halfords.

Tom has now been accepted onto a body works and mechanics diploma at Leicester College and is working hard to achieve the grades he needs to attend the course. It’s great to see him work towards a career in mechanics so he can eventually achieve his dream goal of owning a garage.

By supporting young people who may not have had the most encouraging start in life can bring undeniable benefits to businesses too. Learning how to become a mentor and how to change your communication style to engage with group of young people can push people out of their comfort zones. As Sarah Merrilees, HR Business Partner from BidFood said, “Anything that pushes employees out of their comfort zone is a good thing for their development”. It also gives employers the chance to be a part of something that impacts the wider society we live in, to really make a difference and encourage a new cohort of workers.

If you surround yourself with positive role models, you’ll likely become an effective role model for others. Isn’t that something we want to encourage for future generations? Business leaders can be a part of creating the next generation of role models, except it could be even more powerful because sometimes, the best role models are the ones that have shared experiences and are now telling their stories.

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