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Work 101

Anja KueppersMarch 20, 2013

Whether it's going to a job interview with clean shoes or thinking outside the box, a London initiative is combating youth unemployment by teaching the work skills you can't learn from books.

BronzeUnrecognizable businessman with suitcase working late concept © dgmata #26183306
Symbolbild GeschäftsmannImage: Fotolia/dgmata

According to the International Labor Organization, almost 13 percent of young people worldwide are out of work and their situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. In the UK, even though overall unemployment numbers have been falling, youth unemployment continues to rise.

It's proving a stubborn problem to solve. Despite the significant amount of government money invested in apprenticeships and work experience placements, many young people still lack the basic skills needed to hold down a job.

Offering good customer service shouldn't be hard. It's about being friendly and helpful, having a neat and tidy appearance, and looking people in the eye. But finding a young person with these social skills can be difficult.

Learning the right mindset

Ibrahim Ologunro, a young Londoner who fell in with the wrong crowd in his teens, says he would have been incapable of holding down a job when he was younger.

Ibrahim Ologunro
Ibrahim Ologunro was headed down the wrong path - until he decided to make a changeImage: DW/A. Küppers

"Thinking back now, I just don't think I was in the right place. I had all this stuff going on. I was all over the place," he recalled. "How can I go into a work place and be able to commit myself to it?"

It's not an unusual situation for young people in the UK, especially those from tough neighborhoods where family life is often unstable. Even if they do manage to get through school with some qualifications, they often lack the necessary mindset that is so vital in a workplace.

It's a problem that's been high on the government's agenda for a long time, with much talk about improving educational opportunities for Britain's young people.

"What we've got to do to help get young people back to work is improve our school system so they've got proper qualifications, improve our welfare system so it pays to work, and improve our employment system so there are proper apprenticeships," Prime Minister David Cameron recently told reporters.

Pact with the youth

Last year, the 1-billion-pound ($1.5-billion) Youth Contract was launched in the UK to provide apprenticeships and voluntary work experience placements for 18-to-24-year-olds. The scheme has faced criticism, though, and as the UK's Minister for Employment Mark Hoban admitted himself, the government needs to do more.

Men's legs with dress pants and black shoes
Appeance is an important part of making a professional impressionImage: imago/UPI Photo

Arrival Education is a UK social enterprise that works with young people from challenging backgrounds and puts them through a skills program called Success for Life. The Arrival Education team works with inner-city schools in London, such as Kingswood Community School in Beckton.

Everyday life isn't easy for these kids from Beckton. Divorced parents, domestic violence and unhappiness aren't unusual. Arrival Education works with them to come to terms with their circumstances, to understand better who they are, and to develop the vocabulary to express their feelings.

With the help of trainers and corporate mentors, they're taught how to imagine and work towards a positive future for themselves while learning the basic social and professional skills necessary for any job. Daniel Snell, the founder of Arrival Education, says they try to teach the skills that lead to success - skills that aren't captured in the academic curriculum.

Dealing with real life

"The ability to think creatively, to be solution orientated, to work in partnerships, to deal with complexity and anxiety and challenge, and produce results: Those are qualities that we strive to bring to these young people," said Snell.

Arrival Education doesn't provide jobs or vocational skills, but does provide young people with a sense of self-awareness and of knowing what employers expect. It's the simple things like being properly dressed, turning up on time, and knowing how to shake someone's hand.

Daniel Snell (left)
Daniel Snell (left), with an Arrival Education participant, says creative thinking is essentialImage: DW/A. Küppers

TV production company Endemol partners with Arrival Education to offer workshops, mentoring programs and work experience opportunities. Bella Lambourne, Endemol's human resources director, says the young people they work with develop the confidence to know they can deliver.

"When they started they never would have even dreamed of aspiring to going to work in a bank or becoming a lawyer or going to university, because none of their friends or family ever have done that, and none of their teachers have thought that was an option for them either. And then two to three years later, they're achieving A grades," said Lambourne.

Five years after his first encounter with Arrival Education, Ibrahim Ologunro graduated from school with impressive grades and is now planning to study structural engineering.

In the meantime, he's working as a trainer for Arrival Education. Not bad for a kid who came from Kenya to London at age 13 and was at one time selling drugs on the street. Without the help of Arrival Education, Ologunro says he's sure that he would either be in prison or deported by now.