What can young adults learn from stepping onto the stage? Quite a lot of new life skills, according to evidence from a new programme run at one of the world's most famous theatres: The Old Vic, based in the heart of London.

In 2019, almost 800 Year 11 and sixth form students signed up for the Take the Lead, a programme explicitly designed to help give young adults practical skills in the world of work. It helps build self-confidence and self-belief, while at the same time broadening their careers outlook. Such skills have always been essential in the job market. They're even more important now due to rapid technological change across the economy.

Roleplaying as a learning experience

Part of the theatre-based programme involved the students diving into imaginary role-playing exercises. For instance, how would you react to meeting a potential employer who grilled you with tough questions? Students are taught to be aware of their body language, and what's appropriate when speaking with strangers, says Prue Thompson, head of marketing for RBC Wealth Management in London. "Communication and presentation are two key skills you come out with," she says. "The facilitators on the programme are fantastic."

The project wasn't all about role playing. Another critical part involved talks by people from a variety of different professions. "RBC represented the finance industry, while the Old Vic sourced people from media and other parts of life," Thompson says. "The point of those sessions is that you might start with a plan but then end up somewhere very different." In other words, these sessions were designed so participants could get a broader view of the different career paths available to them. Many of the students had challenging backgrounds where such career guidance might not have been available at home, Thompson explains.

Positive feedback from participants

Before attending the event, 62 percent of the students thought they could communicate well with others. However, after experiencing the Take the Lead program, that figure jumped to 90 percent. Similar dramatic increases were seen across many skills, including self confidence and being good at overcoming problems. "It helped me participate in things out of my comfort zone which has led to a positive outcome as I am now part of the senior student team," says one student.

The need to strengthen the non-academic skills of students leaving school was core to RBC's involvement in supporting the "Take the Lead" programme. "We wanted a citizenship angle to help support young people," Thompson says. The good news was the bank had already been supporting The Old Vic in other ways since 2015. "When we went to them, they were ready to launch 'Take the Lead,'" she says. The partnership in mentoring the young fit perfectly with RBC's pledge from 2018 to commit C$ 500 million (approximately £300 million) over ten years to help enhance the employability of young people.

Involvement from schools crucial to success

The programme went beyond just RBC and the theatre. Key to its success was getting schools involved and then students. Teachers who saw their students go through the programme were impressed. "I feel very privileged to have participated in this programme," said one teacher. "It's so beneficial for my students in skills they'll need in life," said one of the teachers involved.

The programme also had some luck on its side for 2020. "We completed this year's just prior to the lock down," Thompson says. "We won't be defeated by coronavirus."

The next "Take the Lead" programme is planned for 2021.