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Home / Resources / News / HOW TO SPARK A LIVING


As part of our Making a Living project, we’re also exploring how groups are testing new methods to help people develop their skills. We interviewed Eugenie Teasley, a social innovator who’s helping other young people develop their skills to hack themselves new ways to make a living.We ask her what motivated her to start her business, how young people co-create the projects themselves, how they can translate experiences from their personal life into skills for the workplace and why you need a little spark and mettle to make a living.Your Star Track programme helps people map and launch their dream career. Many people argue that young people should be happy with getting any job. What motivated you to start a programme to help young people think about what they really want to do for a living? There are lots of young people who have realistic aspirations in the UK, but they just don’t have the connections or the resources to help achieve them. And yet there are also lots of people who have found the way to a job that they love who are willing and excited to give advice, support and guidance. I felt I was in a good position to connect these two groups together.

One of your Star Track videos talks about it being a “new way to map and launch happy careers (and lives)”. How important is it that young people can feel good about what they want to do for a living? How does Star Track help them do that?

There’s always a tension between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, especially when it comes to work. I think that there are a lot of driven and capable young people whose career chances are capped because of where they come from or who they know, and that frustrates me.

But at the same time, I think it’s important to learn or to be reminded, that doing work that benefits others is a great thing to look for—not just working for charities, but anything that can contribute to rather than detract from the greater good. Through Star Track we unpick young people’s motivations and ambitions, and see if we can help them map it all to a bespoke course of action that is achievable and beneficial to them and to others.

What type of expectations do young people have about how they can make a living when they join your programme? (How) do these change by the time they’ve completed it?

We tend to attract young people who want to do something a bit different—non-traditional careers such as design, technology or entrepreneurship — and we try to support them achieve that by connecting them to people who can help them, and also giving them greater insight into themselves and their hopes. A lot of them expect to work a job while developing their skills and interests on the side, which we actively encourage.

What type of support do you find most important to help young people cope with trying to make a living?

A lot of it comes down to reassurance—that they’re not doing anything wrong; they just haven’t had a break. That and the contacts we can help them make. Most support programmes are delivered to young people.

How does inviting young people to co-create your programmes help them (and you!) meet their goals?

It means that the programme is as relevant as possible to them, rather than imposed on them. But it also means that we have to be adaptive and responsive. It’s a great reminder that we don’t have The Answer, and it enables young people to take ownership of their own journey too.

There is a growing trend of social media tools incentivising people to “pimp their status”. You use social media to engage with young people. How do you think young people can (and are!) using these new skills to build portfolios for their career?

There are brilliant examples of young people making films, Gifs or even using Amazon to promote themselves. We want to bring those examples to a greater swathe of young people and encourage them to have the confidence and creativity to do it themselves.

Discoverables is an opportunity for young people to showcase all the strengths and skills they have—a bit like Pinterest.

We’ve found that young people cope in different ways – emotionally & practically – to try and make a living. Some people are overwhelmed or blame themselves while others look for every opportunity to improve. How do your programmes adapt to helping young people who cope in different ways to cope with their situation? How do their attitudes change over the course of being involved in your programmes?

By the end of the programme most young people tend to be more realistic and pragmatic, with a game plan in place of how to get to where they want to go, and a real idea of how long it will take them to get there. There’s no magic trick about making a living doing something that you love. It takes mettle. And spark!

How does giving young people the opportunity to work with others to develop & sell products (like Dreamers Supply) help prepare them to make a living?

It gives them practical, real world experience of taking a product to market and collaborating with an intergenerational group of people. Discoverables is a way to help you discover your strengths, complete missions to prove you have your strengths, then use your strengths to complete self-directed skills challenges to demonstrate your skills to employers.

The Discoverables starts off with asking people different questions about how they feel about different areas of life – not just about their career. How important is this approach to help young people discover what they’re good at?

There are key strengths that transcend work and play—things like having a sense of purpose and agency that are important in all aspects of life. Enabling young people to identify and articulate these strengths lays a rock solid foundation for building up career-focused soft skills such as collaboration or new media literacy and can help people thrive both in and out of the office.

There are a wide range of different missions – some which seem similar to questions traditionally asked at interviews (like “tell a story of the hardest thing you’ve hard to overcome and how you did it”) and others which much less so (“take an old object and turn it into something new”). What was the idea behind creating missions which don’t seem – on the face of it – to have a direct relevance with developing skills for work?

The boundaries between work and not-work are dissolving with increases in flexible working and the use of tech for both professional and personal lives. We like playing around with this, and encouraging young people to see that what they’ve done with their friends or at home or in education can often be applied in the workplace too.

What would you like to achieve in the next ten years?

Have Spark+Mettle and Discoverables serving thousands of people both across the UK and overseas, with hubs in areas of high youth unemployment.

Eugenie Teasley first began developing the idea of Spark+Mettle on returning to England after a stint in the USA and feeling shocked at the UK’s level of social stratification and the lack of social mobility. After almost two years of incubating the idea, the recent economic downturn and its effect on government support for young people propelled her to turn it into an organisation.

Asides from running Spark+Mettle, Eugenie shares her knowledge on raising aspirations and well-being in disadvantaged young people through her own freelance work. Eugenie also does some consultancy for other educational charities and other social enterprises. A Fellow of the RSA, she is one of nine social entrepreneurs on this year’s RSA Spotlight programme as well as a recipient of one of their Catalyst grants for the Dreamers’ Supply Company project.

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