By Lindsey Turnbull
A common cry from businesses across the island is that young people entering the workplace are ill-prepared for the realities of the working world, so a series of mock interviews took place last week at John Gray High School aimed at readying students for Cayman’s fast-paced business environment.
Organised by the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre (CIFEC), the project brought representatives from a cross-section section of industries to the school to interview students, gauge their readiness for the workplace and give them advice as to how they could better prepare themselves for their working life ahead. The RCIPS, the Water Authority, Red Sail Sports, Appleby, the Margaritaville Beach Resort Hotel, Tech Cayman, The Ritz-Carlton, Maples and various Government agencies all participated, among lots of other businesses.
Jenine Stewart, CIFEC’s Career Services Manager, said that the mock interviews were geared to all Year 11 students of John Gray High School and they had been run by herself and her predecessors for around six years, part of a wider participation by industry in the development of students. Ms Stewart advised that each year representatives from the private sector partner with the Career Services Unit and government schools to provide internship placements for over 200 CIFEC students who had previously attended either John Gray High School or Clifton Hunter High School. Making this connection early on with students reaped benefits for the companies involved, Ms Stewart advised.
“It is important to have their input as they ultimately end up employing many of these students later,” she said.
Students gain a great deal from the experience, she confirmed. In particular, the mock interview days provide a great opportunity for students to refine their interviewing skills, gain tips on questions to ask in an interview, receive immediate feedback, and enhance their interviewing techniques.
“This event is also excellent training for interviewees as they prepare for full-time or part-time employment, internship positions and as they prepare to interview for scholarships and college placements,” she said.
Real life scenario
Students are interviewed by industry professionals, often HR staff, who play the role of the employer and question students as if it were a real-life interview. The interviewers were given a list of suggested questions with which they could quiz the students, or use their own questions. Each session lasted 20 minutes, consisting of a five minute review of the student’s CV or application, a ten minute interview and an important five minute feedback session. Students were permitted to either wear smart school uniform or business wear.
Students were prepped for the task ahead via a PowerPoint presentation and Q & A session. The school’s career liaison officer also provided support and guidance to the students along with the school’s management team, tutors and other members of staff, Ms Stewart said.
Giving students a chance
Taneisha Campbell, HR Manager at the Margaritaville Beach Resort Hotel, said this was the hotel’s first year of participating in the mock interview project.
“We are trying to become more involved with the community and more involved with students because we’ve done internships before and we see how it helps them to grow, get more discipline and know what it is like out there as opposed to being in school,” Ms Campbell said. “It gives us the drive to reach out to students even more and get more students involved and to appreciate it’s a whole different life after school,” she advised.
Ms Campbell said that she had previously worked with a CIFEC student, giving him the chance to work within all departments within the organisation. She said that the opportunity helped him find out where his interests lay within the hospitality industry.
“Working with this student gave me the passion to work with students even more,” she advised.
Ms Campbell hoped to expand her department further and welcome more students to Margaritaville for work placements.
“I would love to find more students like him so we can help them to see what their vision is and see where they want to go in life. We have something of an open-door policy: once we see you are interested and you know where you are going and what you want to do, we always welcome them. If they want to stay in school and work a few hours at the weekend, that’s great, too.”
Learning through feedback
Jerrod Wilson, Senior HR Officer with Appleby, said his firm had been participating in the project for a number of years.
“We think it’s very important to play our part for the students to give them that critical work experience and they help us a lot, helping us out in the office,” he confirmed.
In his years working with the schools in preparing students for the workplace, Mr Wilson said he had definitely seen a shift in how schools themselves were preparing students.
“Resumés have got better over the years, they pay more attention to them and they pay attention to feedback we’ve given them,” he confirmed.
Critical feedback given to the students is a key component of the mock interview sessions, he said.
“One thing I tell them a lot is to talk about their passion. Yesterday one or two students had that passion and they weren’t afraid to talk about it and I said to them to push that even more because that’s what employers want to see; they want to see the passion. It’s just helping them realise what they need to say and do when they are talking to employers,” he advised.
Mr Wilson said that he also challenged the students to explain what their education path was to achieve their goals, and said that students had realistic expectations of how to go about this.
“Everyone of them said they wanted to go to university; they wanted to do very different things, but I think they understood the importance of that and the competition in the working world. I think they get it,” he said, adding that he thought it was a good programme.
“I think it’s really important,” he confirmed. “I am happy that they take on feedback each year and you can see the programme shift. The students are more enthusiastic each year,” he said.