Written by:
Nina Meghji

Unlocking career opportunities for young Black men

Read time:
7 minutes

Unlocking career opportunities for young Black men

Action for Race Equality has been working to end racial inequality in the education, employment and justice systems since 1991. The charity’s pioneering Moving on Up programme seeks to improve employment outcomes for young Black men aged 16-24 in London. Nina Meghji speaks to Ian Moya, a science teacher and ambassador for the initiative, about championing the career goals of young Black men, navigating his own employment pathway, and why confidence, exposure and representation are the key.

Action for Race Equality (ARE) takes an active approach to campaigning by pioneering participatory programmes that challenge discrimination and empower young people. How does it feel to be part of this work?

It feels amazing. Growing up you don’t get to see a lot of people of colour who are in high positions, so you don’t get that sense of representation. But if you’re able to be a part of [a programme like Moving on Up] and reach out to different communities and different workplaces and show that better representation is possible, it motivates youngsters growing up [to think], ‘You know what, I can possibly get into that field.’

[Showing my] students that there’s a Black science teacher is a really good thing. It’s someone they can relate to while I can also relate to their possible struggles when they’re growing up. It’s amazing to be able to represent them.

Being an ambassador also really builds your confidence and self-esteem. When I gave a talk at my school about being an ambassador, I could see some of my students had sparks in their eyes — thinking that their teacher is able to do this [while] also trying to push for racial equality in the workforce.

ARE has developed a guide for chief executives to address the underrepresentation of young Black men in the workforce. Despite having a degree in biomedical science and a master’s in pharmacology, you found it difficult to get a job in your chosen field. What challenges did you face?

Many of my peers had family members in their chosen fields. They knew what avenues to explore in order to get the right experience, so once they left university they could actually chase [their careers] forward.

I had [white] friends who knew the importance of job fairs because they had their parents to tell them that they were important. But if you’re the first person in your family to go to university, you don’t really know what’s important, you just know that you’re there to study, get your degree and you believe that degree will open doors for you.

With me, I got the grades and everything but within my community you don’t really see a lot of big scientific companies or job vacancies. In my field you really have to dig for them. I felt I needed connections, which a lot of young Black people don’t have. They don’t get exposed to those high-paying roles.

'As an ambassador, I’ve shared my own experiences with employers’

Moving on Up aims to improve employment outcomes for young Black men aged 16-24 in London. As an ambassador for the programme, how do you champion the career dreams of others? And who is championing yours?

That’s a good question. ARE holds careers’ fairs and asks us to promote them through our social media to young Black men or anyone from ethnically diverse backgrounds we think they might be useful to. People can go to these fairs and get CV training, interview training and attend workshops.

We also talk to employers about how to [make workplaces] more inclusive and [encourage them to] promote jobs to people from ethnically diverse communities such as Brent, where I’m from. At ARE we discuss the issues faced by black men [related to] employment and workplace progression and develop toolkits, for example, on how to make the interview process less daunting. As an ambassador, I’ve shared my own experiences with employers and [contributed to] media campaigns that they can use to recruit more young Black men.

In terms of championing my career, the more people I talk to, it gradually builds my own confidence. I used to be quite introverted [but ARE has] allowed me to push further, something that’s especially important for someone who’s not been exposed to a lot. The confidence boost of being able to work with everyone at ARE and talk to other young people has allowed me to progress in my own career.

Do you see your future in teaching?

I think it’s a good thing I fell into teaching. I loved science, but that time away from the lab, being able to train in different schools, meet different students from many walks of life, and learn how I could impact their lives in a positive way, was really valuable.  Sometimes, that one year you spend with a particular student can really change their life for the better and you can just see them going from strength to strength.

I’m happy where I am because of the impact I’m making. In research you’re in the lab by yourself, which is fun as well, but [in teaching you] just know that you can change someone’s life. 

‘The more representation there is, the more confidence there is’

Are you optimistic about the future?

I feel, gradually, that representation is increasing. It’s taking its time, but it’s getting there, so I’m optimistic. I know that for all the ambassadors, everyone’s become more confident and more willing to chase the positions they want. I know there are some other ambassadors who’ve gotten promotions because now they’re more confident. But you also gain confidence because now you’re a representative for younger people as they grow up.

My first job interview was with a recruitment agency before I got into teaching. I loved the office space, it was beautiful, but I could only see two Black people there at most. You’re out of your depth. Your confidence gets knocked-down a bit. How am I going to get it if I can only see two Black people? The more representation there is, the more confidence there is. Representation and confidence, in my opinion, go hand-in-hand.

In the future things can change – we’re working towards it. Though my students are still quite young, in 10 years’ time, when they’re getting ready for the workforce, hopefully the barriers will be reduced. The powerful thing about ARE is that we’re able to slowly break down those barriers bit by bit.

Find out more about Action for Race Equality on its website. 

Nina Meghji is a freelance researcher, writer and editor and an education, gender and international development specialist.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Runnymede Trust.

Join the fight for racial justice: support the Runnymede Trust’s work by making a donation.

Photo © Jeff Moore

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