John Young is a regular face, bringing us the news on our TV screens in Sussex each weekday evening. Here he shares the buzz he felt as he set up his own team-building company — sharing the adrenaline of newsroom life, and his portable autocue, with the county’s schools and now, local businesses
The thing about working in TV news is that it all happens rather fast. You’re assigned your story in the morning and by lunchtime you aim to have found one, maybe two, interviewees to include in your report for the mid-day news — by 7pm you need to have rounded up all the key facts, pictures, the words and the guests, turned them into a balanced news item, and composed what you’re going to say live to the presenter in the studio. And then you go home, ready to do it all over again the next day.
It’s a daily challenge and delight that seems to me to encapsulate the employability skills we all need. Deadlines. Dilemmas. Making a decision. So a few years ago, as I sat on a plane en route to a holiday after my father’s funeral, I decided I would take the plunge. I would use the money he’d left me to set up a small business. Where his had been about finance, mine would be about those key skills. I would take that newsroom adrenaline — and distil it into an in-your-face experience for schools and, now, businesses. I call it Newsroom Bootcamp!
On Monday 16 September 2013, it happened. After twenty-five years at the BBC, I went part time and, with its permission, created John Young Media. Now, with more than fifty state schools on my books, I’m offering an adult version to businesses. My workshops are not a BBC product, and this isn’t media-training, but it is an adrenaline filled team building adventure without the hassle of hiring a minibus and heading for an outward bound activity centre.
The title came to me at the gym. Newsroom Bootcamp! had an edge to it, with a sense of place as well as a sense of energy. Three years on, several thousand pupils of all ages have now put themselves through my Autocue Challenge, standing up before their peers to read words off a moving autocue with no rehearsal whatsoever. They’re usually pretty proud of the Certificate of Comfort Zone Breach they’re presented with at the end.
And that’s not the half of it. Through my news-based games, they discover the reality of the broader workplace. My Give Me Five game is quite simple. “Here are nine stories. In your teams, pick five for your programme. You’ve got six minutes. Go!” But then a phone will ring, with a cameraman appearing on the big screen to warn you he’s stuck in traffic, and won’t reach his story at all … the phone goes again, with pressure from a councillor who doesn’t want you reporting a local scandal. You spot on Twitter that there’s an emergency off the coast in the Channel, and so it goes on. Most of the pupils are punch drunk by the time the whistle finally goes and they declare which five stories their team would have run, and in which order. There’s then a final twist, but to reveal that would spoil the surprise…
As every business owner will know, you’ve got to meet your clients’ needs — and teachers are under more pressure than ever these days to prepare pupils for the world of work. Every businessperson reading this will know it doesn’t always happen. To help both, I also created my Employability Express — a workshop that gives every pupil seeking work experience or an interview a jolt.
First, I ask who wants to read off the autocue — and pick two people who don’t want to, to go up first. I ask the class to list their individual qualities — and then ask for hard examples of qualities. A phone rings, and it keeps ringing until someone steps up for the final challenge — being interviewed by me on camera, watched by their peers. Sounds tough? The feedback I gather from the pupils themselves tells me they’re grateful they’ve been put through it.
Over the three years I’ve spent running the enterprise as a small private business, I’ve learnt a few things about myself. First, that feedback and figures matter. One of the things I’d discovered a few years earlier, when on a year’s secondment as a trainer at the BBC’s College of Journalism, was that after each session, you need to ask what your delegates felt they actually learnt, not simply whether they’d enjoyed themselves. This helps me provide a one page report for teachers and managers, spelling out just what their pupils or staff have actually gained. Second, be flexible. Every teacher, every manager, has different needs for their pupils or staff. Some want the full bells-and-whistles package, some want more discussion and reflection. What they all want is to feel they’ve been listened to by me. And finally, the biggest lesson of all for me — a lesson perhaps any businessman or businesswoman reading this article will understand. That to succeed, you’ve just got to step outside that comfort zone.
John’s Top Tips for Getting the Workforce You Want:
- Try to get involved in your local schools and colleges to let them know YOUR needs. Become a governor — or offer a stand at a Careers Fair they may be arranging.
- Work with organisations who already exist to help — for example, Eastbourne’s Education Business Partnership (EBP), Sussex Business for Schools, a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Young Enterprise South East.
- Don’t be discouraged if schools seem too busy to respond to you at first. Schools can be frantic places. The organisations listed above may be able to help.
You can find out more about Newsroom Bootcamp for Business by calling John on 01273 606246 or 07850 188620, or visit johnyoungmedia.co.uk.