Apprentices Making a Difference Series: The Social Mobility Entrepreneur by Shola West and Siobhan Randell

Jul 29, 2020


Apprentices Making a Difference Series: The Social Mobility Entrepreneur 

An interview with WhiteHat Community Associate, Shola, and Community Manager, Siobhan Randell for the Apprentices Making a Difference Series.


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Shola, Founder of Youth Unlocked and Community Associate at WhiteHat

Joining the WhiteHat Community Team sparked my interest in working with young people. My apprenticeship involved organising large scale events with partners, virtual events and initiating a peer support programme. This gave me experience of working with 100s of apprentices at different companies across London. I also represented WhiteHat at external events to inform and inspire young people to consider the apprenticeship route. From this I discovered my passion, helping others to find inspiration, find their confidence and reach their potential. Founding your own community-based platform whilst completing an apprenticeship is huge, what motivated you to create Youth Unlocked?

When I was first entering the workforce at age 18, whilst it was this huge opportunity, it also presented a unique set of challenges. I wasn’t sure how to thrive in this new environment and I had quite different lived experience to my colleagues. For example, if there was a stabbing in my area and a colleague asked me ‘how was your weekend?’ I didn’t know how to talk about it and if they were talking about skiing, I didn’t know how to join in that conversation either. I didn’t know who to talk to about it outside of work because my friends weren’t yet in a working environment and so didn’t really understand, I felt quite separate from them too. I’d also regularly get friends reaching out to me to find out how I’d got into the career I’m in. Therefore, on my 20th birthday in March this year, I decided to launch Youth Unlocked, a community-based platform made by young professionals for young professionals exploring a range of topics and providing advice on all things careers & life skills.

What have you learnt from leading Youth Unlocked over the last 4 months? 

Young people have no lack of ambition, they want to be successful, they just might not know how to get there. I found there’s lots of interventions focused on getting young people away from knife crime but most young Londoners wouldn’t even consider knife crime, we can’t assume that just because you’re from a certain part of London that you’ll think about getting involved in crime, so I’m offering something different.

Youth Unlocked is currently completely voluntary and I’ve learnt how to build a small team of volunteers who are key to our success. WhiteHat Alumni, Jamilah, is our graphic designer and WhiteHat Alumni, Gabby, does the video editing and we have one other volunteer who writes transcripts. Currently, I spend a lot of time organising and planning the content for our events series ‘Endz to the City’ which is publicised via social media. Endz literally means the area where you live and for me it’s our way of reclaiming where we’re from without labels like ‘disadvantaged.’ When we talk about the City we’re talking about your first job in central London, it’s fancy, you have feelings of elevation, like you’ve made it, you’ve achieved something with your life. However, you might be the only person who looks and sounds like you, so you need to figure out who you are and how to navigate this new environment, without feeling like you’re living two separate lives.

So far we’ve hosted 3 events reaching 170 young people and gaining over 700 followers on social media. Our events have covered ‘Microaggressions, Cultural Shock & Imposter Syndrome’, ‘Business, Entrepreneurship and Building Your Personal Brand,’ and most recently ‘Mental Health, Real Talk’ where we looked at myths around mental health, as in a community like mine, it’s still a very taboo subject.

You have been very successful in your career journey so far, getting a distinction in your apprenticeship and a promotion. How do you feel volunteering has helped you develop your skills and what advice would you give other young professionals who are interested in launching their own social impact initiative?

Starting Youth Unlocked has helped me learn how to build something from a concept to delivery. Also, getting incredible panellists to speak at our events has built on my relationship building and influencing skills! My advice to others would be to start small, get lots of feedback so that you can continually improve your idea. Do your research, does anyone want this? You will learn each time you trial an iteration of it. If you’re delivering events virtually, there’s no need for a venue or catering and there’s so many tools you can use like zoom, google hangouts or social media, again do your research and find what format works for you.

WhiteHat Community Members can find out more about volunteering, including inspirational stories and opportunities, by joining the Apprentices Making a Difference group on the Community Hub.

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