IBM’s Prevent journey: challenges, progress and lessons learned

Joel Thomas, of IBM’s award-winning Foundation UK Programme, shares his experience of IBM’s Prevent journey, explaining his vision, the challenges he has encountered, and the role ETF and other support has played. He also looks at the progress made so far and reflects on the lessons he and his team have learned.

When I became Prevent Lead for IBM’s UK Early Professional programme two years ago, my ambition was to bring the risks of radicalisation to life, highlighting that anyone can become vulnerable. Just because we hadn’t experienced high volumes of Prevent referrals, it did not mean that IBMers or IBM were safe from the harms of radicalisation, and complacency was not an option.

We faced three key challenges:

  1. Making Prevent feel ‘real’, ensuring it didn’t become a box-ticking exercise
  2. Managing a national risk assessment based on regional risk insights
  3. Increasing visibility of Prevent across our large organisation.

Making Prevent feel ‘real’

Making Prevent accessible and radicalisation feel ‘real’ to all Learners, as opposed to something that only ‘happens’ to others, has taken a careful balance. We try not to overstate the risks of radicalisation, but to educate on what these are; embedding fear is not helpful, embedding relatable learning is.

With a mixture of Apprentices, Degree Apprentices, Graduates and Interns on our programme, a key challenge has been navigating how to apply the Prevent Duty and contextualise British Values for adult learners in a professional environment.

We utilise ETF’s Prevent training for inductions and compliment this with an IBM-created Safeguarding e-learning course. This IBM learning includes very informal interviews with leaders across our organisation on what the British Values mean to them as IBMers, and to IBM as an organisation.

We’ve recognised that whilst induction learning is important, ongoing learning is essential. As a result, we have embedded British Value activities into our apprentices’ regular action learning sets held every six to eight weeks. These activities relate the British Values to IBM’s values and core methodologies, making these relevant to their daily roles. For example, our Junior Management Consultant apprentices explore the values and principles from IBM’s Design Thinking and Agile methodologies, mapping these against the relevant British Values. In doing so, apprentices identify how the British Values can be exemplified in their project environments.

Outside of our structured curriculum, we promote the Prevent Duty and British Values less formally through communication channels such as our Apprentice Community Newsletter. For example, we have featured articles on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, in addition to content authored by a degree apprentice volunteering in the counter-terrorism field.

Managing Risk

Counter Terrorism’s local profile reports provide essential information on regional risks. However, as a national provider, building a risk assessment that takes account of the risks across multiple regions can be a challenge. To mitigate, we have identified a single DfE Regional Prevent Coordinator as our external point of contact. This single point of contact acts as an essential gateway for discussing whether a concern meets the threshold for referral, for sharing upskilling opportunities, and for providing best practice inputs to our risk assessment. As a result of the relationship developed, we have been able to support the DfE in return, for example reviewing a new training module on Gaming Platforms prior to its public launch.

To ensure we maintain an accurate view of broader risks across regions, we engage with wider DfE Prevent Coordinators and receive regular email updates for locations where we have a concentration of early professionals. This expansive network has also provided excellent opportunities for nationally dispersed staff to engage in more local training, such as an in-person Right-Wing Extremism referral simulation workshop.

Broad external collaboration is essential if we are to stay alert in an ever-evolving field. Through attending networking events we have been able to identify collaboration opportunities, such as filming an interview with Counter Terrorism police, embedding an early professional into the Counter Terrorism Youth Advisory Group, piloting ETF training with our early professionals, and inviting external experts to speak to our management team. Each of these interactions has grown our understanding of risks, in addition to our ability to manage these.

Visibility across a large organisation

Robust policies and procedures are vital, but of little value if they are not widely accessible and promoted. As a result, our Safeguarding Lead, and myself as Prevent Lead, have worked to increase the eminence of these roles with internal stakeholders.

We recently briefed the UK HR Director and HR Business Operations Leader, highlighting our responsibilities and engaging in an open dialogue around the importance of Prevent. As a result, we were invited to present to the entire UK Human Resources organisation on the Prevent duty and are soon to circulate a video across the organisation of an interview we conducted with Counter Terrorism police. In addition, we attend every induction to highlight that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and encourage early professionals to be upstanders if they see or experience something of concern.

As a result of these efforts, the role of Prevent Lead has become more visible within the organisation, and we have been invited to input on discussions ranging from reflection room design to security processes.

Next Steps for IBM

Implementing the Prevent Duty is a process rather than a one-off event and, whilst Ofsted deemed our safeguarding provision to be ‘effective’, we strive to continue iterating to further improve this. To measure our progress, we regularly survey early professionals on their understanding of safeguarding, Prevent and British Values. For example, in May 2022, 100% felt they had a clear understanding of these areas, a two per cent increase compared to six months earlier and a six per cent increase over 12 months.

Our focus continues to be on collaborating with external partners; we are far more effective when we unite to share expertise and learn from one another. Our story so far has been one of utilising the fantastic support structures that exist, such as the Department for Education, Counter Terrorism police, Local Authorities, Education & Training Foundation and National Safeguarding Forum, to name a few. These provide essential expertise and resources, and in return we can help shape future support by sharing what is most effective in our organisations.

As I’ve embarked on this journey of safeguarding early professionals from the harms of radicalisation, I have three key reflections:

  • Know your capacity: Prevent is a heavy topic and it is important to practice self-care and set healthy boundaries in terms of time spent consuming difficult content.
  • Prevent and Safeguarding roles are inextricably linked: I am delighted to work closely with our Safeguarding Lead, and this has enabled us to deputise effectively for one another and ensure consistent messaging.
  • Proportionality is key! You can always do more, but our responses to the risks of radicalisation need to be both measured and proportionate.

Joel Thomas
People Manager and Prevent Lead, IBM Foundation UK Programme

Joel Thomas portrait

About Joel:
Joel is a People Manager and Prevent Lead for IBM’s award-winning Foundation UK Programme, which is the home for UK early professionals. In 2022, IBM’s Foundation programme received an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating, achieved the Princess Royal Training Award, and won Target Job’s Graduate Employer of the Year for the fifth consecutive year.