Forty jobless young Londoners trained as part of The Independent’s Skill Up Step Up campaign have started work at employers that span a diversity of sectors – ranging from hospitality to medical administration to commercial property.
They are the first wave to benefit from the life-changing opportunities provided by the 330 jobs that have been pledged by companies so far as we seek to take more than 1,000 young people out of unemployment and into work.
The 40, given their dream start by companies that include Hilton hotel group and LexisNexis Risk Solutions Group, who have hired 15 trainees between them, have been up-skilled by one of the five charities we are funding to make jobless Londoners “work-ready” as part of our £1M campaign in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills.
We began this campaign by reporting the soul-destroying stories of Londoners who applied for hundreds of jobs without receiving feedback as to why they repeatedly failed to exit the pool of 88,700 that officially comprise London’s “unemployed, aged 16-24”. Now, after undergoing extensive training funded by our initiative, our campaign has given them wings. Here, two of the successful 40 tell us what this new step means to them – and their employers assess their contribution so far.
From Jobless in Croydon to LexisNexis Risk Solutions Group recruit in Bishopsgate
When Christabel arrived at her school in Croydon on the first day of Year 13 to begin her A-levels, the head of year pulled her aside and said: “Why bother? It’s not as if you are getting into a Russell Group university, are you?”
“This was the moment everything changed,” said Christabel. “I had ten good GCSEs (B’s and C’s) and had been a bubbly, outgoing student who contributed in class, but after that I became very quiet, only speaking when spoken to and I lost my confidence because I felt my teachers did not believe in me. My grades slumped. I passed A-levels but did not get the marks I needed to enter the course in mental health nursing I wanted and after that my life spiralled downwards.”
Christabel drifted. She enrolled at another university to study adult nursing to prove she “wasn’t stupid” before pulling out half-way through because of loneliness during Covid. She also worked as a care assistant for patients in their homes, feeding, changing and cleaning them, but became unhappy and desperate to leave.
“At one point I got so low, I couldn’t leave my bed,” she said. “My mum became terribly worried, hugging me and crying and pleading with me not to give in to negative thoughts. I was applying for jobs but felt at a dead end because I was just getting rejected and didn’t know what to do.”
It was an Instagram post from 2020 Change, a training provider supported by our Skill Up Step Up campaign, offering places on their 10-week “I am Change” programme that proved the catalyst to change.
“I applied last year, got in and on the course they asked us to do a video projecting ourselves five years into the future to visualise the life we wanted. It was emotional because I had just turned 23 and I realised I had no plans or expectations and It made me see how negative my thoughts had become. The 2020 Change course showed me my potential, but it also gave practical steps to success. By the time they put me forward to apply for the job at EG, part of the LexisNexis Risk Solutions Group, I was ready. My CV was sorted, I had researched the company and the commercial property sector and I felt motivated.
“I was incredibly happy to get the job, but I don’t think it sunk in until the first day of induction what an amazing opportunity it was. I never imagined this would be the case after just one month, but I find real estate and data analytics really interesting. It’s exciting to have your brain switched on and feel engaged. I thought I had to go to university and pay a ton of money to change my life, but it was a free 10-week programme that did it.”
Rianna Ralphs, 30, head of customer success at EG, part of LexisNexis Risk Solutions Group and a provider of data, news and analytics for the commercial real estate market, said: “Normally we employ university graduates, but this is a new initiative to be more inclusive by offering a leg up to young people with no degree.
“I interviewed three candidates for a position in our customer success team and despite being younger than people we typically hire, Christabel sailed through with flying colours. She came across as eloquent and professional and followed up to thank us for our time – a nice touch. We felt she had the values we look for – somebody who will work well in a team and go above and beyond for a customer. She started a month ago on a two-year apprenticeship and has been a joy to work with. She is eager to learn, has a natural affinity for real estate and has fitted easily into the team. In five years, she could be a manager earning £40,000 to £60,000. She has proved an excellent hire and I predict great things.”
“This job is life changing … and means no more banging my head against a brick wall”
University dropout to top PR agency
When Amin dropped out of his business management degree at Queen Mary University to seek an apprenticeship where he could “earn and learn” at the same time, his parents were not happy. He reassured them he would soon find a placement, but Covid made it difficult and a year later he was still searching.
Amin, who grew up in Tower Hamlets, the son of Bangladeshi parents, said: “I made loads of job applications but got no interviews and no feedback. After a while you feel hopeless and rejected. I started applying for courses in marketing and engineering, but I had been average at school and didn’t have the grades to get in. I watched my peers progress while I fell further and further behind. It was not an easy time.”
He opened up to a friend who told him about a “great” local charity in Tower Hamlets called City Gateway where he had done a training course that helped him find an apprenticeship. Amin signed up. “From the moment I joined City Gateway, I felt I was in the right place,” he said. “They understood what I wanted to achieve and how I needed to get there. They helped me build a good CV, gave me interview and research skills and rebuilt my self-esteem and confidence.”
The competition for the position at Riot Communications – of apprentice business administrative assistant in the operations and procurement team – was fierce, but Amin won out. “Working at Riot has made me feel good again” he said. “Everyone has been so supportive. Did it change my life? Yes – I am enjoying myself and learning new things and, importantly, the job has good progression potential. If I hadn’t gone to City Gateway, I’d probably still be applying for jobs and banging my head against a brick wall. I feel very lucky to be given this break.”
Deborah Klass, finance and operations manager, said: “We are a public relations agency based in Bethnal Green operating in arts and culture and pride ourselves on being inclusive, so when we read about Skill Up Step Up, it seemed a natural fit to sign up.
“Amin trained with City Gateway and started with us several months ago as our first recruit. He had to see off 39 other applicants including two from City Gateway to get the job, but after three interviews, he was the stand-out candidate. His personality, charm and confidence shone through.”
She added: “Some companies may be put off hiring disadvantaged people trained up by groups like City Gateway, opting rather for tried and tested employees, but the feeling when you help change somebody’s life is brilliant.
“Amin has brought a youthfulness and a different dimension to our agency. He’s a self-starter, smart and quick, he’s got a lovely calm nature and he’s excellent at communicating with all levels, from the MD down. He is a whizz at social media and will be given opportunities across the business. One of his jobs will be to supervise our next apprentice who, I am pleased to report, will also be recruited from the Skill Up Step Up campaign.”