Kriss Akabusi helps MBA Polymers’ youngest recruits reach for the stars

Our youngest staff members

MBA Polymers’ youngest employees recently explored their hopes and dreams for the future with none other than sporting legend Kriss Akabusi. The former Olympic athlete, who now specialises in youth training and motivational speaking, held a lively training workshop at MBA’s Worksop plant, helping the company’s young recruits to paint a vision of their goals and challenges, and take their first steps towards building a fulfilling career.

“Youth training is vital to our business,” says Nigel Hunton, MBA’s CEO. “It’s important that everyone understands MBA’s culture as we continue to grow, and that people know how to stay safe and give of their best in the workplace. This means helping young people to develop valuable skills and knowledge for work and life.”

“Kriss Akabusi has some great experience in helping underprivileged young people to enter and thrive in the workplace, and we were delighted to welcome him to our plant to help our young employees recognise how work can improve their lives.”

With nearly 20% of MBA’s 145 Worksop employees aged 18-24, Kriss had a full class for his first training session. Conscious of the work challenges facing today’s young people, and particularly in communities with high unemployment rates, he was determined to help make a difference.

“When young people from deprived areas get jobs, they become a role model in their community, so it’s really important that they understand the value of work and the investment their employer is making in them,” Akabusi explains.

“The transition to the workplace is much harder than it was 20 years ago,” he continues. “In our knowledge-based economy, people need more qualifications to compete and more people are attending university. If you don’t have high level academic qualifications, it’s not obvious how to create opportunities for yourself.”

Working on the wall of dreams and wall of complexity

Moving swiftly from words to action, Kriss first helped the class to understand that everyone sees the world differently – in work, at school and in life. In helping them to engage with their future and their career, he encouraged them to consider what work is, their skills and gifts, and the unspoken contract of companies investing in their employees and employees delivering their best.

“We don’t tend to have jobs for life these days – we have a ‘portfolio’ career, moving every few years, so it’s important that employees develop useful skills and knowledge for the future while performing in their current role,” he says.

Kriss stirred the team’s imaginations by asking them to share where they would be in five years, if there were no barriers to success. Together, they created a ‘wall of dreams’, using magazine cuttings, images and charts to show how their lives would take shape. Next, they created the ‘wall of complexity’, with the team exploring the barriers they thought could prevent them from achieving their dreams.

“We had some great responses, and it was surprising to see how level-headed these young people were,” Kriss explains. “The majority simply wanted security and a place to belong. And they had a realistic attitude about the obstacles they face.

“Building a clear picture of what we want and what’s holding us back is the first step towards understanding what drives us, and identifying what we can and can’t control.”

Explaining the choices

The next step is working with managers to help build trust, Kriss explains, and understanding that transgressions carry a clear penalty. Equally, managers need to communicate clearly on what’s right and wrong, hold the mirror up, and work collaboratively with their young recruits.

Kriss invited plant manager Richard Chambers and HR Manager Sue Thomson to talk to the team. Richard spoke about the importance of investing in new recruits and respecting health and safety rules on site, highlighting that everyone is there to support their young colleagues. Meanwhile, Sue explained that MBA’s HR team is there to help them every step of the way, through the good days and bad days.

“The training with Kriss helped our young people to understand how to make the move from school to work, why discipline is necessary in the workplace, and really think about what they want from their careers,” says Sue.

“It was great for everyone to engage in an open and frank discussion about their ambitions, different personality types and management styles,” adds Richard. “We want to show the young people in the company that there’s more to life than clocking in and clocking out – that work is a pathway to achieving dreams and ambitions.”

Feedback from the young participants has been positive, with employees agreeing that the training was worthwhile and particularly beneficial for new starters.

“It got people out of their comfort zone, made them feel part of them team, and will also help motivate them, as it shows the company is behind its young employees and wants them to progress here for the long term,” says MBA employee Guy Hughes.

Thinking about goals and obstacles was very helpful, believes Guy’s colleague Jamie Todd. “I’ll be more motivated to overcome any challenges I may face in the future that could stop me reaching my goals,” he says, adding that the company’s efforts to invest in its young employees made them all feel valued.

Looking ahead, MBA’s Polymers will be helping its young employees to develop a roadmap to achieve their ambitions, with more experienced employees sharing stories of their own career paths.

Youth training is part of a wider programme of activities to support young people at MBA, including graduate placements and a new apprenticeship scheme, set to be launched later this year.