Contract thrillers

Jobs - Synester, Cristye and Stephen
Jobs - Synester, Cristye and Stephen
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Liam’s a lovely name but the 21-year-old now known as Synyster Cyanide-Gates opted for a name guaranteed to catch attention – but not necessarily secure a job.

Today, thanks to a successful work experience placement in a surreal setting, Synyster is settling right in.

He now works at Who on Coronation Street, Blackpool, which sells sci-fi, fantasy and movie goodies. It’s in the premier league of geekdom for the gods and monsters set. It even sells models of a very famous Liam indeed – actor Neeson in Star Wars mode.

Managers there were so impressed by Synyster’s curriculum vitae and his customer service and administrative skills they created a job for him – after the JobCentre helped out by extending his placement.

The world and universe is now Synyster’s oyster and he admits: “I had my doubts at first but work experience worked for me. This is my dream job. It’s a great environment to work in and I like the staff and customers.”

You meet interesting people at JobCentreplus these days. Particularly the busy Queen Street branch

Right now, staff there are rolling out the Government’s new £1bn Youth Contract initiative to employers and would be recruits. It extends across all local Jobcentres.

Nationally, over the next three years, specialist employer engagement teams will offer an extra 250,000 to 18-24 year olds work experience or sector-based work academy places lasting up to eight weeks. Each comes virtually gift wrapped for employers with wage and other cash incentives and support. It also runs in tandem with a new £150m programme to help 16-17 year olds into education, apprenticeships or training.

Here in Blackpool, we need all the help we can get – with one of the highest rates for young people not in education, training or employment. Many of the few jobs available are seasonal.

The aim is to support young people into moving closer, or into, work. The big push is for proper long-term jobs, and getting kids off benefits.

There’s no shortage of support from Blackpool and The Fylde College, Merlin’s sector-based work academy, Positive Steps, GPUK (formerly Beneast), In Training, Connexions and more.

Many have come out fighting to beat the bad press of apprenticeship and work experience placements presented by BBC’s Panorama this week. In Trainer consultant Andrea Stafford points out: “It’s unfair to tar us all with the same brush. There are many good providers and trainers out there.”

Stephen Toner, 23, has completed a four-week placement at Peel Park, helping the DWP’s IT team. He left after a year in the army after failing to get a job in signals, radio ops. He went to university, bagged a BTech national diploma in IT, then a BScience Hons, but still can’t find work. “All the time at university we were told we would walk into work at the end of it. But we didn’t. We came out to find all the jobs had gone.” He’s been out of work since 2006.

He appreciates work placements but is keen to experience the real thing, get a proper wage. His student loan negated his right to benefits. “That made life really difficult. But what I’d like to see is a system that filters out those who don’t want to work, just get out of bed for their benefit and go back again. I want a system that helps people who want to work get work. Will this do it? I hope so. There’s a lot at stake.”

Christye Bullivant, 24, enjoyed her placement with the local civil service, but admits: “I’d love a job. We’ve all sent out hundreds of job applications. I’ve got great references from everything I’ve tried. I’m doing all the right things. I just hope it’s enough to impress an employer.”

For an agency on the frontline handling the casualties of recession, JobCentreplus staff retain a “can do” mentality. “We’ve got a passion to make this work,” says employer engagement team manager Lorraine Townson. “But partnership is the way forward. Look around you – everyone here thinks just the same. We couldn’t have a better town for team spirit.”

Gareth Carr, adviser team manager (for the 18-24 team), says: “There is substantial evidence of the damaging effects of unemployment. The recession has had a significant impact on young people’s labour market prospects. This is all about advancing their career prospects, reducing risk of long-term unemployment and welfare dependency and encourage social mobility and economic growth.”

Supporters include Wendy Hirst and Amanda O’Donnell, of Blackpool and The Fylde College’s Seasiders Learning Centre – helping students develop employability skills.

“We’re totally committed to this,” says Wendy. “It’s about more than getting young people into work – but making them get more out of life.” Business administration interns Emily Ball, 19, and Holly Wolstencroft, 18, agree. “You feel your confidence grow with each hour spent in a workplace,” says Holly. or Twitter @jacquimorley