Steve, 21, sat down and said: “I wrote my GCSEs from Great Ormond Street Hospital and that was where I met a social worker who inspired me, so, yes, that’s why I am here — because that was my low point and I want to do social work and help others like they helped me. But I need your help to get there.”
Aisha, 17, spoke softly and looked away. “I am here because I’ve made loads of job applications, none successful, and I need to change how I come across because I am really shy.”
Marcus, 20, seemed reluctant to explain what he had been doing but then decided to share: “I am here because I never had a full-time legitimate job in my life and because, to be honest,” he paused, hesitant again, “I want to go legal.”
These were the answers these three young Londoners gave when asked ‘what brought you here?’ at a welcome day to induct 55 new trainees on to City Gateway’s latest employability programme.
Polly Hughes, spokeswoman for the charity, and one of several staff assessing the recruits at their open-plan headquarters on the Isle of Dogs, said: “There is a massive difference between how they come across now and how they will sound by the end of our programme. Especially after they get the external validation from work experience that allows them to believe, ‘yes, I can do this’.”
City Gateway is the second charity we are funding to skill up disadvantaged jobless young adults to make them “work ready” as part of our £1 million Skill Up Step Up Christmas appeal across the Evening Standard and The Independent in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills.
Whereas Springboard, the charity partner confirmed yesterday, is focused on hospitality, City Gateway prepares youngsters to enter an array of sectors — including digital media, marketing and IT. Their course ranges from 12 to 20 weeks and they offer level two maths and English to get trainees to the minimum standard required by employers, as well as providing digital and employability skills such as time management, presentation skills, problem solving, team work and interview preparation.
Each recruit undergoes a series of 20-minute interviews with different staff members to assess their resilience and how far from the work place they are and whether they need the full 20-week course or a pared-down version. Ms Hughes said: “Young people usually come in under-confident and some struggle with shame. But the biggest thing we see is loss of self-belief because they have been told over and over that they are a failure. Our aim is to change that narrative and unlock their potential.”
Ms Hughes, who had been assigned these three young adults, asked each about their previous jobs, hobbies and passions and what “transferable skills” they had acquired.
Aisha’s answers were punctuated by heavy silences. She had no work experience except for a week volunteering at a Mind charity shop, she said. She didn’t know what “transferable skills” were but added: “I love baking muffins.” Soon Ms Hughes was teasing out of her the transferable skills baking entailed: planning, buying ingredients, measuring and timing. As Aisha got drawn in, she became relaxed and opened up. Later Ms Hughes said: “Aisha is far from the workplace but meet her in a few months when she has done our course and you will be amazed at the transformation.”
In contrast, Steve spoke with poise and self-awareness as he engaged Ms Hughes. “I have been trying to find a job in social care for months but they say I need level two English and maths and so I fall short,” he said.
The south-east Londoner added: “I suffered from anorexia in my teens and ended up missing a year of school and barely talking to anyone my age for 18 months. I sat GCSEs from my hospital bed and failed. I was bullied at school and suffered anxiety. The only silver lining was that I got brilliant therapy and help from a social worker and that helped me to come out of my shell and has inspired me to help other kids.
“I feel nothing’s impossible because I’ve come from an impossible situation. My father is a concierge in Canary Wharf and he encourages me to have a better life than he’s had.” Marcus, from Newham, was all clammed up and spoke in staccato sentences. He had worked part-time at Iceland. “Hated it.” Couldn’t think of a transferable skill. “I’ve applied for so many jobs. Can’t even count.”
But when Ms Hughes broached his passion, he came to life. “Crypto,” he said brightly. “I like figuring out which crypto is best. I check out their website, see who’s involved, assess their plans and if it looks solid, I invest. Now my friends come to me for advice.” His interest arose, he said, because he was getting paid in Bitcoin. “Sometimes it went up and I made a shitload and sometimes it went down and I got upset, so I started to research and realised that Bitcoin was probably the worst of the lot.”
Asked what job he hoped to get, he looked uncomfortable. “I’m not a bad person,” he said. “My mum is fine with me earning Bitcoin. It’s just how I get it that she doesn’t like. I’ve been self-
employed until now, you know, buying and selling stuff, so going to work for a legit company is going to be a challenge for me.” He paused. “My problem is that I have no legit references to put on my CV and I really need help to start this new phase of my life.”
Ms Hughes responded: “That’s a lot of transferable skills you have, including sales and marketing expertise, the importance of research, risk spreading.” She smiled. “I think you might be closer to the job market than you think.”
Only about six per cent of City Gateway’s recruits have had prior criminal activity, but most, said Ms Hughes, have put it behind them and gone on to make fresh starts and have successful careers. Many more, like Steve, arrive without functional maths and English skills, almost 40 per cent, she added. “Despite these disadvantages, we have a 50 per cent success rate for getting NEETS into employment, education or further training, which is double the industry average.”
The names of Marcus and Aisha have been changed.