Many young people come out of the education system unready for work, lacking the skills and attitude to realise their potential. Newspaper reports highlight every day that youth unemployment is nearly at 1 million. Some exclaim that there are no jobs; others flout the unhelpful distinctions between ‘shirkers and strivers’. But in many cases, young people simply lack the confidence to fulfil their talents or to overcome the disadvantages they have faced.
One organisation engaging with young people is Spear. It is part of the Resurgo Trust, which ‘exists to galvanise neighbourhood transformation in London and beyond’. It is a free, interactive, six-week course seeking to get young people back into the labour market or education. It was established in 2004 and now has the capacity to serve 360 students each year. It offers practical skills like interview training, CV-writing and even a customer service qualification. But it also believes that building confidence, motivation and aspiration are central planks of its work.Spear’s Director said that in many cases, there are stories of absent fathers, parental addiction, domestic-violence and depression.
Spear is having great success with those who complete the course, with 75 per cent of its graduates still in employment or training a year later.
A month ago I visited Spear to watch one of the training sessions. I followed this up last night when I attended one of its graduation ceremonies. Unlike your average graduation, students gave presentations on the key lessons they learned, like ‘how to walk into a job interview’. It was inspiring to recognise some of the same faces from the previous month and see how they had grown in confidence and maturity.
One girl told the ceremony how just six weeks ago, she could never have presented to such a large audience. Through tears she told us how she had never felt her parents cared about her, which led her simply to not care about herself. Also showing us that statistics hide a multitude of individual stories, one boy told us how he had been doing very well at school, but lost all motivation after his mum was diagnosed with cancer. With the help of Spear, his ambition of becoming a doctor has been reinvigorated.
At the end of the ceremony, the trainers presented each graduate with a certificate – a reminder that for many, this was the first time their progress had been celebrated and praised. As they left, each student was set a challenge – including ‘keeping focussed’, ‘improving time-keeping’ and even, ‘not getting distracted by video-games’.
Looking around, I saw friends congratulating one-another and proudly taking photos. But I couldn’t help notice that whilst more than 30 young people were graduating – a record for a Spear graduation – there were far fewer parents in the audience. It acted as a reminder of the circumstances and deeper issues many have faced. So whilst the labour market is tough, the problems underneath are sometimes tougher. In times of austerity, or indeed of plenty, we need more spears to arm young people to deal with the challenges ahead.