Ryan Stewart, 19, of Thornton, who wants to be a plumber if someone’s prepared to give him a chance, can’t believe his luck.
He’s just attended a joint JobCentre Plus and Blackpool Council event – Future Choices Youth – at the council-owned youth, community and commerce hub, The Oracle, on St Annes Road, South Shore.
The event is specifically for 16 to 24 year-olds, the toughest market to crack on the jobs front, highlighted by the TUC and the Government’s employment statistics in recent days.
Coun Chris Maughan, 22, cabinet member for younger people, says: “The scale of youth unemployment on the Fylde coast is worrying which is why it’s crucial Blackpool Council, JobCentre Plus, local colleges,training provides and employers work together to give our young people hope, aspiration and opportunities.”
It’s already worked for Ryan who’s left with the promise of a course of 10 free driving lessons so long as he fulfils his side of the deal and attends a BTech course to develop his employment skills. Second course, second set of lessons, up to 30 if all goes well. Will it? That’s down to Ryan.
Kim Rolls, of Any Driver funded driver training, says he’s in the driver’s seat on the scheme which sets out to overcome one major barrier to youth employment – lack of a driving licence.
Given that Blackpool based driving instructor Kim charges £22 an hour’s lesson there’s a potential bonanza of £660 worth of lessons. “It’s win win,” she says. Ryan and his pal Jordan Leighton, 19, of Poulton, agree. They’re not just along for the ride, there because they have been told to be there but they want a proper wage, not their fortnightly £112 jobseekers’ allowance.
Jake Macauley, 19, of South Shore, has lost track of the job applications he’s sent out and been ignored. “It gets depressing.” Jake’s had four jobs since leaving school. “I’ve tried a bit of everything to get experience but want to get into electrical engineering. I don’t want to sit behind a desk every day.”
He’s penned between up to 800 letters to potential employers. “You get a couple of replies for every 100 sent,” he reckons.
Ben Connor, 22, of Fleetwood, pictured below, is well spoken, well turned out, and says his private boarding school education hasn’t made any difference to his prospects.
“I’ve worked mostly in bars but I really want to get into the fitness industry. Without experience you get turned down. It’s catch 22.”
He’s now hopeful of a course at Myerscough College but it’s a hike from home.
“Tram to Blackpool, bus to Garstang, and back. I’ll have to set off really early.”
Ben says it’s hard to manage fares, food, rent, present himself for interviews, on £100 every two weeks. So what does he make of the Future Choices event? “It’s good, I’m surprised at the turn out. But I still think the Government hasn’t a clue on youth unemployment statistics.
“When you’re out of work you know it’s really tough out there.”
Picture a speed dating session between potential employers and the people they hope to help and that’s the spirit of this innovative and exciting event. This is no lip service exercise.
“It’s like a who’s who for the major movers and shakers within the local workforce, voluntary sector and extended support system.
Local success stories include Blackpool Build Up which has helped 2,800 learners into full time construction employment in four years. Yvonne Ellis, of Venture Learning, is promoting hairdressing. “Salons are crying out for good recruits.”
JobCentre Plus specialist managers Caroline Todd and Gareth Carr are confident it will pay off in real opportunities.
“The response has been really heartwarming,” says Gareth.
“This is an exceptional event,” adds Caroline. “We can only build on what’s been achieved.”
Mike Taplin, Blackpool Council’s senior manager early health for children and families, is already looking to the future.
“He’s delighted with the response to the council’s First Voices project, video diary podcasts by young visitors – speaking candidly about unemployment, what it feels like, and their hopes for the future.
Mike highlights the queues for the specialist small business advisor on start up self employment tips for young people with the can-do mentality.
“Blackpool, for all the stereotypes, is immensely innovative and has the ability to surprise with its vision,” Mike adds.
“You can say much the same for young people. You watch some programmes, you listen to the news, and it’s all gloom and doom. We’re out to show it’s not.”
Specialist national careers advisor Peter Ward burns with the same passion to make a difference to young people running out of jobs and hope.
He switched careers from retail management and says: “Nothing beats the buzz of what I do now because I know it’s work which makes a difference.
“I’ve lived in Blackpool for 24 years, I know the issues here. We need to move away from the boom or bust economy to one we can support and sustain.”