Spotlights are back for 2023 and we’re kicking off with the inspirational Agent Academy CIC

Since 2014, the award-winning team has worked to upskill the next generation of digital, creative and tech talent by helping young people gain real experience and make industry connections. Their success is helped by an inclusive working culture that nurtures creativity, passion and commitment. The team of four is led by Yasmin Lord-Pottinger, who joined earlier this year as the new Head of Agent Academy. 

A tremendous number of graduates have gone on to find roles in local creative and digital businesses, many of them in the Baltic Creative community. We spoke to one such success story, Sana Aboarook who, having gone through the program herself, is passionate about the Academy. Sana told us about the work they do and the open nature of Agent, which allows her to celebrate her Muslim religion.

Thanks for chatting to us, Sana! Can you start by telling us about Agent Academy and the work that you do?

Of course! Agent Academy started in 2014 as the sister social enterprise of Agent Marketing. When Agent started in 2011, they noticed there was a skills gap and various barriers to getting young people into the digital, creative and tech industries. Our chief executive Paul [Corcoran] wanted to start something to help young people build skills and apply them to a full time job. The Academy now runs free part-time programmes to support young people into full time employment.

You’re a CIC as we are, do you receive funding for the programs?

Our main source of funding comes from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Bootcamp funding. It’s great because they help us measure our results and realise the impact our work is having. They check our processes by observing sessions and seeing how many learners have gone through the program and how many get into full time work. 

Can you tell us about your role specifically, Sana?

I do a lot of bits and bobs! I’m still quite new to the industry so I’m building skills in different areas. My actual role is Operations Assistant so I oversee our operations, making sure everything we do is right and that the programs run smoothly. I also ensure our on-boarding and off-boarding process is fair and considers diversity and inclusion. It’s hard for people in protected groups to get opportunities in this industry, so that’s an important factor for us.

Sana Aboarook at Agent’s IWD Connect event for International Women’s Day 2023.
There’s a few different programs you offer to learners, can you tell us what they involve?

Our core program is RISE which runs every 3 to 4 months throughout the year. We already offer that in Liverpool and we’ve recently started in Manchester as well. It’s 2 days a week, and is a free program for people between 18 and 30 who are passionate about getting into digital, creative and tech careers. You’ve got to be out of full time education and willing for us to help you get into full time work.

Then we have our FUSE program which is a partnership with universities and colleges – the main one at the moment being the University of Liverpool. We take on their students, whether final year or recent graduates, and help them build on the skills needed for their career. It’s a more compressed version of RISE so is only 4 to 6 weeks long. We have other programs that haven’t fully launched yet, but when they do, there’ll be ones for senior leaders and for people already in careers.

You really cover all levels! The main way you measure your success is seeing how many people you’ve got into full-time work. Can you tell us about some of the Agent Academy success stories?

There’s so many amazing success stories from Agent Academy! It’s really nice to see because I’ve been through the program myself. I was a school leaver, but I didn’t want to go to university. I didn’t feel confident enough to pick a subject and stick with that, so I decided to do the program instead. In the end the Academy hired me to join their team instead of handing me over to someone else! We’ve also got three guys at Agent working across strategy and the creative team. They all did the program at different times and had come from different backgrounds. One of them had been to university, the other had been in freelance work and the other was a school leaver like me.

My sister, Hanayah, also did the program which is a great success story. She’d graduated from university in early years education and then was stuck in a retail job for 3 or 4 years after. She was getting to a point where she wanted something more permanent and something she was passionate about. She joined Agent Academy’s program because she knew she was a creative person but didn’t know how to apply it. Hanayah actually met her employer through the program because they came in as an expert speaker! Now she’s a business development executive for the Lasso group and she gets to do all of these amazing things building on the skills she gained with Agent Academy. A lot of the time the speakers and businesses we work with end up hiring from us. They know these young people are passionate but just need a foot in the door.

Do you think it helps young people to learn in a work environment?

Definitely! It helps the learners get an idea of how the workplace is. It’s not always super strict and formal, it can be quite relaxed and you can learn along the way. It’s a bit like work experience but not in one specific role. Our learners find out about different roles and careers. It’s really important for them to know what’s available.

What kind of real-world experience do learners get while they’re on the program?

When they join we’ve already secured a client beforehand. A lot of the time these clients have a campaign or a challenge that their business is facing that we ask our learners to look at. Throughout the 12 weeks they get briefed on this challenge directly from the client. They then work to find solutions for real-world projects that will actually be released. When I did the program, our client was the Anthony Walker Foundation. We worked on a project to create a new hate-crime reporting tool. It was so interesting and we actually got to see our work displayed on billboards in Liverpool. You feel like you’ve been part of something big. 

You mentioned Lasso Group, what other guest speakers have you had?

Networking is a big part of the industry now. So the guest speakers are experts, or even new starters, who come in and speak about their experiences, roles and journeys. It helps learners have a personal communication with these experts and get loads of insight. We’ve people from all types of companies. Of course, we try to engage with businesses from the Baltic Creative community! We’re all together in this community and we need to help each other out, so we like to promote the businesses around us. Apart from Lasso, we’ve also had Form and Blaze Media.

As well as speaking, these businesses have often employed more than one learner from us. They see the impact it has, so they end up coming back for more. CGI, which is a global tech company, recruited seven of our learners in the space of one program. We only take ten to fifteen people so that was huge! Our learners have got the experience and skills; they just need that one chance to set them off on their careers. 

Tell us about the working culture of Agent and Agent Academy. It seems like a fun place to work… We saw you had a Eurovision party recently!

Yes, we love a good party at Agent! We try to get together as a whole office to network with each other. It’s nice to know the people you’re working with on a personal level so it’s not just strictly business all the time! It also helps people from different teams connect with each other. For example, I don’t work directly with the creative team but the social parties and break times help us connect.

We’re all in the same room, it’s just that we don’t get to communicate during the work day. We have couches around the office to sit, chat and have a break. It’s important to have an opportunity to download how we’re feeling mentally. We talk a lot about mental health wellbeing to make sure no one is feeling overwhelmed. We also have office bikes so people can get out of the office on their lunch break, enjoy the sun and get some exercise.

You mentioned your work around diversity and inclusion, is this important to the culture of Agent?

We’re very open and honest about people’s beliefs, and we make sure people are considerate towards others. For example, I’m Muslim and I don’t drink so the team is conscious not to drink too much around me or only hold social parties which include drinking. When it was Eid they threw a party to celebrate. It’s great to celebrate all different cultures, not just Christmas etc.

That sounds lovely. What is one of your proudest moments working at Agent Academy?

There’s loads! I’m proud every time we win an award because it proves we’re doing good work and it’s really nice to be recognised for it. I had to make a speech of acceptance at one of our most recent award ceremonies which I had no idea about until they told me to get up there! But being up there and talking about my experience was such a proud moment. Also being able to talk so openly about my religion. When it was Ramadan I did a presentation to the whole office about what it is and why I do it. That’s a proud moment in itself, because you know the team is interested and cares about you and your religion.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, we need speakers for the program! We’d like to get new perspectives from people in all different digital, creative and tech roles. If anyone is interested, they can email us… Or just pop in and say hello! Also our learners are ready for full time work, so if anyone is recruiting and wants a young perspective or someone who is early in their career, we are the place to go! 

Agent Academy CIC is based in the Creative Campus at 49 Jamaica Street. You can find out more about the programs they offer on their website. Don’t forget to give them a follow on social media so you can stay up-to-date with new opportunities!