Searching hard for real career opportunities

JOB HUNT Hairdressing tutor at Blackpool and The Fylde College Hair, Beauty and Related Therapies Mark Hayes gives a demonstration to Paige Dobson, Ashleigh Balmer and Courtney Trucke
JOB HUNT Hairdressing tutor at Blackpool and The Fylde College Hair, Beauty and Related Therapies Mark Hayes gives a demonstration to Paige Dobson, Ashleigh Balmer and Courtney Trucke
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An earnest employment advisor is offering tops. Twips really. “Tweet,” he tells a 21-year-old job seeker. “Tweet as if your life depended on it.”

Your working life may.

Social media is one of the new means of tapping into the so-called “invisible” jobs market locally. Those are the jobs out there but seldom advertised, relying on word of mouth or good contacts – or simply being in the right place at the right time.

The others get passed and parcelled round JobCentre Plus and other employment outlets and agencies and posted online and in newspapers.

But are available jobs, visible or invisible alike, divisible by the six thousand or so out of work (officially according to Job Seekers Allowance claimants) locally?

Or the many more who don’t make that grade – the newly redundant or semi-retired with a small pension or lump sum payment which just lifts them above the benefits ceiling.

They may be too poor to heat their homes once fuel bills rise by more than eight per cent, but the bars have been raised on the poverty trap - leaving more between a rock and a hard place outside, unable to access official aid although unofficially unwaged.

One visiting job seeker has just turned away at the door of a specialist works fair at Blackpool Football Club having learned it’s aimed specifically at young people - although organisers stress they have made other, older, visitors welcome.

“I didn’t know it was for 16 to 24-year-olds,” he adds. “I’m 59, I’ve got a small pension having taken my lump sum early to pay off the mortgage, and it’s left me with savings of above £16k, the threshold for some benefits, and I can’t get even contribution-based JSA, let alone income-based, or anything else.

“My redundancy money is already dwindling because I’m still paying my bills, looking after my family, and running my car and computer on it, both vital for seeking work.

“And for all they tell you that age doesn’t have to be mentioned on applications it’s pretty easy to tell how old you are on a CV - and older workers don’t really get a look in.

“We need one of these events for the over 40s and 50s.

“I’ve written hundreds of jobs applications in the last nine months. I’ve had about 10 interviews and not been accepted for any jobs.”

He formerly worked as a heating engineer.

But Blackpool has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the North West. And for 50 advisors assembled for Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden’s Blackpool Works jobs and skills fair at Blackpool Football Club, the emphasis is on the right 
potential jobs market.

“I don’t want to seem unkind but a lot of these young people won’t get the chances we had,” says one. “That’s why we’re presenting these opportunities. There is work but it’s harder to find without help.”

Luke, 19, no surname by request, a Prince’s Trust recruit, has been round the block a bit already. He’s tried some of the “options” available and found a few wanting.

“Now that one’s good,” he says, pointing at one of the stands. “They helped me. The course was good. Some of the rest are a waste of time.”

He thinks there should be more training opportunities in catering across town. One such facility, at the Salvation Army, Blackpool, closed in July. “I really want to get work in catering rather than just train in it,” says Luke. “I’ve got a girlfriend, she’s got a kid, I’d like a proper job. The Prince’s Trust is great. It is giving me a chance.”

Up to 300 young people aged from 15 upwards have come to this fair, many leaving with leaflets and pamphlets and weighty tomes on how tap into grant aid or support or access training.

Heidi Church, 32, is out of the main 16-24 target age group of the event but delighted with what she’s learned. Heidi used to be a retail training manager for a fast food chain, and then worked at a hotel in accounts until finding herself out of work six weeks ago. She signed up for a retail course conducted by Blackpool and The Fylde College and has visited the event with about 10 other students on the course - of all ages, men and women.

“We come from all backgrounds and that’s the beauty of it,” she admits. “You realise you’re not in it alone. I had experience but I lacked confidence and the course has given me that back. It’s things like getting a CV together that throws you - or knowing how to present yourself for an interview.

“It’s quite off-putting to learn that initial impressions really matter - a prospective employer may make up his or her mind within six seconds. You’ve got to get your body language right!”

Andrina Vandenberg is a personal advisor at Connexions, Market Street, an agency which has survived cutbacks itself to continue helping the young people of Blackpool access education, employment and training.

She’s pleased with the numbers of young people from schools (year 11s - 15 and 16 year olds) and older (16 to 24) bussed into the event, with more coming off their own bat, but admits: “What we really need is more independent employers to be taking on young people. Apprenticeships are great but a lot of young people just want a job. At the very least we need more employers to support work experience.”

Andrina’s been determined to turn tentative inquiries into opportunities. “We’ve already got some 16 to 18-year-olds specifically allocated times to meet advisors at Connexions next week. “There are still fantastic opportunities for young people but we need to encourage everyone to play their part.

“Blackpool is a small town, 20 miles by three miles, the sea to one side, fields to the other so we have to make things happen within a very narrow strip. “

Connexions has already helped turn one negative into a positive for Blackpool - bridging the gap left by the closure of the Army Careers Office on Church Street earlier this year.

The loss of the office, as MoD cutbacks switched the emphasis to online recruitment rather than a high street presence, was seen as a major blow to Blackpool’s job prospects for young men and women, and was criticised by MP Marsden. Figures from Army headquarters revealed more than 1,200 cadets had been recruited by staff there.

Now, having spent the better part of the year working as a private bodyguard in Baghdad, Sergeant Andy Power, who assisted with recruitment in the resort as a Colour Sergeant, is now back in British Army uniform, helping front careers sessions at Connexions twice a month.

He and Major Marc Steventon, MBE, of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, are still keen to showcase in person what the Army has to offer to local young people.

“We run them the face-to-face sessions the first and third Friday of every month from 11am to 3pm,” adds Andy.

“We work closely with Connexions because they look at 18 to 24-year-olds.

“Blackpool has always been a good recruitment town for the Army. What’s more, the Territorial Army will be looking to recruit up to its full manning of 30,000 over the next few years so watch that space too.”

The last word goes to Coun John Jones, who, with Ian Pattison, Mr Marsden’s assistant, helped organise the event.

“It’s gone incredibly well,” he says. “We’ve had 46 providers of advice and help here, real options and opportunities, and around 300 young people have come through, along with some older people curious to see what was happening.

“The support and interest has been immensely positive. It’s been a really worthwhile thing to do.

“Now we need to build on it.”