Published September 2022

Michelle took part in UpRising's Stand Out programme in 2021

3 September 2022

Introduction: Michelle’s story

Michelle took part in the first cohort of UpRising’s Stand Out programme in July 2021, and before this was studying for her master’s degree. She has taken part in four other UpRising programmes and these were all in person, whereas Stand Out was fully online.

To support her through her studies, she was working in precarious employment on a zero-hours contract. This was repetitive work she didn’t enjoy - and she received last-minute shifts. When the covid-19 pandemic hit she was then put on furlough. To make up for this lost income she also worked in another temporary role. 

Michelle explained what she was thinking in the midst of this difficult period - finishing a masters and looking for work during the pandemic – an experience that many young people including myself found themselves in. ‘“OK – what do I wanna do? I’ve literally got my masters, but I can’t do anything with it because I got it in the pandemic and nobody’s hiring, and if they’re hiring right now they want people with more experience, not recent education.”’

She came across Stand Out through UpRising partner RECLAIM offering her a job on the programme, but realised that for her it would be more useful in the long-term to take part in Stand Out.

After successfully taking part in Stand Out Michelle gained a fixed term role at UpRising supporting other young people and explains how she felt much more confident to apply for jobs. She explained this change: ‘I thought, you know what? My skills will speak for themselves. If they’re going to hire me, they’ll hire me. If not, that’s OK, and that’s the confidence I got from the programme.’ And this confidence has translated into success - Michelle has recently had some great news that she’s secured a Civil Service job at the Home Office!


Finding confidence again: how did an online programme respond to Michelle’s situation?

Michelle explained how her confidence dropped during the pandemic. She said ‘I used to be a really confident person. Then the pandemic happened and my confidence just kind of dipped. But then during the programme, I don’t know. Kind of started getting a little bit of myself back.’

These feelings underpin why the advantages of online programmes were advantages for Michelle specifically in her situation. Some of the advantages of online Michelle described were the convenience and logistics. For example, being able to watch videos back. She explained how ‘I remembered conversations and I was able to go back to those videos and relay.’

Michelle felt worried about leaving home during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with the programme fully online, she explained how this meant she attended more sessions. ‘I might have done maybe a week, or might have just attended what I thought I needed, instead of being present for everything, because there were sessions that I didn’t think I needed but they were some of the most helpful.’ 

Moreover, the programme being online offered Michelle a safe and supported space. Michelle explains ‘Maybe because it was online, that little bit of anonymity where you didn’t have to have your camera on but you could still be engaged.’ Rather than being a sign of low engagement in the programme, for Michelle, being able to have her camera off actually increased her engagement.

Stand Out being an online programme, then, supported Michelle to access more of the programme content, access it multiple times, and feel safe and supported in doing so.


The learning process: engagement on whose terms?

Alongside these practical dynamics, there was something distinctly different about the learning process in an online programme where Michelle could engage on her terms in ways that worked for her.

Engaging on her terms was a key part of Michelle’s experience on Stand Out. She explained ‘I was able to reference my applications and this and that, to then go and have my questions ready for the speakers that were coming. And if I forgot something I had access to my applications and everything with me.”’ Having resources ready on her laptop in her space whilst interacting with facilitators and speakers on the programme meant Michelle was less worried and more prepared.

Similarly, she explains how ‘I found myself being able to engage more with the speakers or the guest on LinkedIn, just because directly as part of that – usually you feel rude if you’re sat face-to-face with someone and they tell you their social media and you’re picking up your phone and start typing in their social media. But whilst they’re talking I could go on LinkedIn, save them or send them a ‘Hi’ so they’re already in my list or something like that.’

Online for Michelle meant engagement on her terms – in ways that enabled her to get the most from the opportunity in front of her. In this way, online programmes can help UpRising achieve it’s mission. Michelle explained ‘I’m still in shock right now, just because I think I applied for about six, seven jobs in the past, and then the one I applied for after I’d used Stand Out is the one I get offered. Like I say, so I’ve seen results from the programme, and so it means I can actually be someone from an under-represented background who is going to work within the government and help others and be one of the minorities within that.’


Finding success after Stand Out: why now?

Michelle commented that ‘Standout for me was better because the results of that were more clear, and I think it was because of the way the programme was delivered and it being online.’

When I asked her what changed on Stand Out Michelle explained ‘I was so down, like I said. The current job I was in was just making me miserable and I was just staying by the phone waiting for them to call me any second. And so Standout came at a time, I think, when was ready myself to make the change. I don’t want to go out of my way and say, if you’re not ready to actually accept what the programme’s offering, you won’t get anything out of it, because that’s not true. Because I’m sure people, even if they had no intention of applying the things right away, still got something out of it… it being online made those days when, if I had to go and get on a bus and I’m feeling down and I just cannot even, made it easier. Because as I said, I’d say to myself, “Let me just turn my laptop on, go on the programme” and I’m in… And I was so down, and if it had been in person I don’t think I’d have been as committed, but because it was online it was at my own convenience… Yeah, I can’t praise it enough for being online.’

Stand Out responded to Michelle’s particular circumstances: it enabled her to engage in ways that worked for her.


Engagement in online programmes: engaging differently?

Michelle described how engaging in the programme was different to how she had previously engaged in person. She said she listened more and talked less, which for her was a key part of her success after the programme. ‘I guess that’s where the positivity of what I got out of the programme came from, because I realised I listened more and talked less, which mean, I think, I retrieved a lot more information that way.’

Michelle also explained how she needed to engage on her own as well as being part of a group. She commented ‘even when we went in the groups to ask questions to the people, it was your questions – it wasn’t about the group this and that. I think that’s something that was important for me because I’m so used to doing things in a group… whereas this kind of reminded me, when you’re applying for a job you do it by yourself.’

When I asked Michelle what engagement in the programme meant to her she described ‘Engagement in the programme to me means listening, taking in what is being offered, participating when necessary.’ She commented how ‘that also increased my engagement… I was constantly asking myself, “How can I apply that to the job I want?” And I said, “I want to go to the civil service.”… I’d engaged and I understood where I wanted my brain to focus on. So I used all the people that you guys invited to get as much as I can to make myself look better on an application form… I was just always trying to apply what I was learning to where I wanted to go. That’s how I was engaging with the programme.’

Michelle’s story suggests that engagement is more than behaviour - and can’t necessarily be captured by looking at whether a camera is on or whether an online learning platform has been accessed. Michelle explained how when an engaging speaker was present this ‘Brought me in to start enjoying the programme a little bit more because I was listening more, I was present, I was participating.’


Making friends and connections across the country

Stand Out being online meant we were able to support young people across the country, not just in our core cities. Michelle told me that ‘I’m still talking to some of the people on the programme, from Bedfordshire and Birmingham… because it was online, now I have friends from across the country… You build a community that’s not just in the corner of where you’re from. It’s everywhere.’

Michelle also noted how ‘you would hear more from people you might not have a chance to hear from.’ For her, this included someone from the Civil Service who helped her in her application to work for the Civil Service. ‘He’s based in the Midlands, West Midlands. He’s not based in Manchester, so without the programme I wouldn’t have been able to get his advice on how to apply for roles in civil service.’

Based on what we’ve learned by working with the hundreds of young people who participated on our programmes over the period 2020 - 2022, we undertook a deep dive into some of the literature to better understand what “engagement” really means for young people who take part in online programmes. Our report covers the results of our research, further insights from our programmes team, and recommendations about how to enhance engagement in online programmes. You can read the full report here.