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Skill Up Step Up: Our £1million kickstart to get youngsters ready for work

·12-min read
Skill Up Step Up: Our £1million kickstart to get youngsters ready for work

Today the Evening Standard and The Independent launch Skill Up Step Up, a joint Christmas appeal to help unemployed young people into work through sustainable jobs or apprenticeships and transform their lives.

We have received £1 million from Barclays and partnered with the Barclays LifeSkills programme to provide grant funding over two years for up to five charities that will upskill disadvantaged jobless youths by giving them employability training.

Our first charity beneficiary is Springboard, a UK-wide group based in east London that makes jobless people “work ready” and has an outstanding track record of finding them positions in the hospitality industry. Springboard’s chief executive Chris Gamm called our appeal a “game changer” that would jump-start young people’s careers and help London’s under-staffed hotels and restaurants return to full capacity.

CS Venkatakrishnan, group chief executive at Barclays, said it would be “transformative for young lives” and he was proud to back our appeal.

Our appeal is threefold: it is a call to unemployed youth to sign up for free employability training from one of our charity partners; it is for employers, large or small, to step up to the plate and offer these young people made “work ready” a job or an apprenticeship; and it is a call to readers to donate what they can so we can support even more disadvantaged youth into jobs.

Skill Up Step Up (Evening Standard)
Skill Up Step Up (Evening Standard)

Last week we reported that youth unemployment in the capital had soared by 55 per cent since the start of the pandemic to 105,000 with 21 per cent of young people seeking work jobless. This co-exists with a record 1.17 million job vacancies nationwide, especially in hospitality. Among young black Londoners, the jobless rate rises to 37 per cent.

Experts blamed a stark mismatch between the skills and experience demanded by bosses and that supplied by young people and said it costs our economy billions. In the London hospitality sector alone, the cost of the mismatch in lost productivity is estimated at over £2 billion.

Kate Nicholls, head of UKHospitality, said: “The mismatch is suppressing revenue in London hospitality by 20 per cent at a cost of £2.2 billion. We have restaurants closing several days a week because of lack of staff so it’s a race to get young people skilled up so London can reclaim the number one spot we held in world hospitality since slipping as a result of the pandemic. Hospitality is the second largest employment sector in the capital and is crucial to our overall economy.”

She added: “This appeal is a great opportunity for young people who have borne the brunt of the pandemic. They can go from entry level to a manager earning £50,000 in two or three years.”

Springboard trainees aboard HMS Belfast where they met recruits now employed in the cafe and restaurant (Matt Writtle)
Springboard trainees aboard HMS Belfast where they met recruits now employed in the cafe and restaurant (Matt Writtle)

One employer Springboard works with is Compass which supplies catering staff across the capital, including to HMS Belfast, the permanently moored museum ship between Tower Bridge and London Bridge. Springboard takes new trainees there to inspire them —like the cohort pictured who visited last month — and to meet former trainees such as Natasha, who helps staff the on-board restaurant and cafe.

Natasha (not her real name), a university drama graduate, told how she pinches herself every time she takes in the vista as she strides up the gang plank to start her shift.

The 24-year-old said: “I had been unemployed for a year and I felt completely demoralised after applying for over 30 jobs and not scoring a single interview. Last October I did a three-week course with Springboard where I learned how to present myself and where we covered a different part of the hospitality industry every day.”

She added: “They got me work experience and within weeks I had gone from a person with no prospects to one that ticked enough boxes to get me a job at Compass. My first job with them was on a Covid-testing site, then as a sous chef at The Oval cricket ground and now as a barista on HMS Belfast.

“I have been at Compass almost a year. My line manager has discussed how I can rise to operations manager, hopefully within a year. My message to other young people is this: sign up because it will change your life. It completely changed mine.”

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

Chris Gamm of Springboard said: “The Skill Up Step Up campaign is a game changer for young people and the hospitality industry. One challenge hospitality faces is convincing parents, teachers and career advisers what a dynamic career hospitality presents with opportunities to gain transferable skills. We look forward to making unemployed young people work ready and getting their career kick-started.”

CS Venkatakrishnan of Barclays said: “One thing I’m looking forward to in my new role at Barclays is our work supporting charities and local communities. This is at the heart of our culture.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on jobs, particularly in the capital with youth unemployment rates soaring. At the same time, many businesses are struggling to recruit talent. Our LifeSkills employability programme, which has helped 14 million people gain vital core skills since its launch eight years ago, can play a key part in plugging that gap. That’s why I’m proud to announce we are backing the Evening Standard and The Independent with their Skill Up Step Up appeal, which will help transform the lives of many disadvantaged young Londoners.”

Steve Haines of Impetus, a group that helps disadvantaged youths, backed our initiative and called on the Government to act. “A significant proportion of unemployed young people aren’t work ready and need support before they have the skills and confidence required,” he said.

“This campaign is a huge step in the right direction but we need government to act, too. If it is serious about levelling up and reducing the number of vacancies, they must address young people’s essential skills in the levelling up White Paper due before Christmas.”

Expelled at eight. Homeless at 15. But now I’ve got my mojo back

Devonte has been working between the bar, kitchen and front of house at London’s O2 Arena in Greenwich for a year (Matt Writtle)
Devonte has been working between the bar, kitchen and front of house at London’s O2 Arena in Greenwich for a year (Matt Writtle)

Few people gave Devonte a chance of making a success of his life. By the time the tearaway sat his GCSE exams at Catford library, he had been permanently excluded three times and had achieved the dubious distinction of being kicked out of a pupil referral unit — a unit that specialises in re-socialising kicked-out children. Even for them, Devonte was too disruptive.

Today, the grin on the 19-year-old’s face was infectious as he proudly showed us around his new workplace — the O2 Arena — where he is employed by the hospitality company Compass. “My story shows that however bad your past, with the right help, you can turn your life around,” he said, referring to the training course he completed with Springboard, the charity that upskilled him and found him a job — and the first partner announced as part of our Skill Up Step Up campaign.

The south Londoner looked poised beyond his years, but few teenagers have had to fight as hard as Devonte. Brought up by a single mother, Devonte was just six when one of his older brothers was stabbed and killed at a party in a row over a mobile phone. “We were very close,” he said. “He would pick me up from school and we would bake apple crumble together. He was 15 when he died and after that, I didn’t know how to deal with my sadness. I wasn’t aware I was angry but I would easily lose my temper and I started getting into fights at school.”

At eight, Devonte’s primary school expelled him to Summerhouse, a pupil referral unit for primary school children in Southwark. By the time he started secondary school, he was already way behind his peers and feeling like he was being bypassed.

He didn’t hang around long. At 12, he got into a physical fight with a teacher and, again, he was expelled. But the pupil referral unit he went to excluded him too and he found himself at the end of the road — a therapeutic PRU in Kennington for children with adverse childhood experiences.

Years later, Devonte would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services), but the support he was long overdue came too late to save his education.

I went to live with my brother but we didn’t get on. So for a year I slept in cars, on buses and sofa surfed

By his mid-teens, Devonte’s home life was unravelling. His mother had been diagnosed with cancer and he would return from school to tend to her and clean the house. By 15, his mother had passed away and Devonte was homeless. “I went to live with my brother but we didn’t get on, so for a year I slept in abandoned cars, on night buses and sofa surfed at friends,” he said.

Devonte was put into care and given a room in semi-independent, shared accommodation. “I sat my GCSEs at Catford library but failed pretty much everything. I needed to fix up because I had to start earning and becoming independent. I love food and had ideas about starting my own Caribbean fast-food business, so I decided to start at the bottom and work my way up.”

But what followed was “three years in the wilderness”, Devonte said. “I looked for entry-level jobs and applied to be a shelf-stacker on the night shift at Tesco. I tried garages, department stores, job centres — I made hundreds of applications. I had functional Level-2 English and maths but it wasn’t enough. I started to feel hopeless.”

He added: “I started staying up all night watching movies and I’d go to sleep at 6am, waking at midday so the day didn’t feel so long. Then Covid hit and finding a job went from hard to impossible. Everywhere I turned I faced no-entry signs.” But last October his social worker told him about Springboard, a charity based near Liverpool Street that is plugged into the hospitality industry and offers a three-week course in employability skills. “I thought, it’s free, what can I lose?”

They were three weeks that changed Devonte’s life. He said: “The first thing Springboard gave me was a routine and a reason to get up in the morning. I would set my alarm for 5.30am because I had to commute from south London and I started going to bed at a normal time. I l felt productive for the first time.

“They taught us how to lay out our CV, what to expect in an interview, and how to prepare and structure our answers. I learned to always be early and the importance of body language and tone. I learned that the customer is always right, and how to take criticism and improve from mistakes rather than be defeated by them.”

Within a week, Devonte had a job at Compass, where he has now been employed for a year. He said: “That course was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got a job as a dishwasher, then I worked in the kitchens and prepared lunches for the players at Wimbledon. Now I have a new job working between the bar, the kitchen and front of house at the O2 Arena. My manager told me my customer service has improved a lot and that I’m an enthusiastic, hard worker. I am excited to be working here at such an iconic venue. I’ve got my mojo back. I am one billion per cent more confident than I was before I found Springboard.”

Work has brought Devonte stability, purpose and pride. He has moved into his own digs, a studio flat in south London which he rents privately. “Wages and a job are not a cure but they are freedom. Without a job, you can’t travel or have a nice meal out with friends. After three years, I was proud to finally tell my brothers: ‘I have a job!’.”

He feels energised. “When I was at Springboard, we Zoomed with this guy who started at the bottom and now cooks for Will Smith. He has inspired me hold on to my dream, too. One day I will open an outdoor eat-all-you-can Caribbean fast-food trailer and I will call it OnaMunch. Nobody gave me a chance until Springboard did. I am on my way.”

What are we doing?

We have launched SKILL UP STEP UP, a £1m initiative in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills to upskill unemployed and disadvantaged young Londoners so they can be “work ready” and step up into sustainable jobs or apprenticeships.

Why are we doing this?

Youth unemployment in London has soared by 55 per cent to 105,000 since the start of the pandemic, meaning that 21 per cent of 16-24 year-olds are jobless at a time of record job vacancies of 1.17M countrywide. This mismatch, caused largely by an employability skills and experience gap, is leading to wasted lives and billions of pounds of lost productivity for our economy.

How will it work?

The £1M from Barclays will provide grant funding over two years for up to five outstanding hand-picked charities that provide disadvantaged jobless young Londoners with employability skills and wrap-around care to get them into the labour market and transform their lives.

The first charity partner, announced today, is Springboard. They will support young people into jobs in the hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, bars, leisure and tourism) via a 3-6 week programme that includes one-to-one mentoring, soft skills and employability development (confidence, work attitude, CV building, interview practice, time management), practical industry and hard skills training including food safety and customer service, as well as access to work experience placements. More partner charities will be announced in due course.

How can jobless young Londoners skill up?

If you are aged 16-24 and want to upskill towards a job in hospitality, contact Springboard at: careerscope.uk.net/skillup-stepup/

For tools, tips and learning resources, visit: barclayslifeskills.com

How to help

How can employers step up?

We want companies — large, medium and small — to step up to the plate with a pledge to employ one or more trainees in a job or apprenticeship. They could work in your IT, customer service, human resources, marketing or sales departments, or any department with entry-level positions. You will be provided with a shortlist of suitable candidates to interview.

To get the ball rolling, contact the London Community Foundation, who are managing the process at: skillup@londoncf.org.uk

How can readers help?

The more money we raise, the more young people we can skill up. To donate go to gofundme.com/skillupstepup

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