Smart Moves: How to help them help themselves

Rachelle Thackray on a new scheme aimed at encouraging deprived youngsters into work
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THINGS ARE looking up for children who have not had the best of starts in life. Mazda has teamed up with Barnardo's to offer a programme that could pay dividends for both the car dealership and individual recruits, and - if successful - could be copied all over the country.

The programme, launched last week, seeks to pair up young people with car dealers around the country in a prelude to apprenticeship. But Tony Tozer, Mazda's UK managing director, insists that the scheme, called simply Opportunities, is not purely philanthropic.

"We set up a three-year deal with Barnardo's that committed us to giving pounds 100,000 a year. We believe in putting our resources into one relationship with a charity , rather than responding to all the various requests. But as a business we are genuinely interested and involved in bringing young people on," he says.

"The business is driven by the need to bring in fresh blood, and it's true that getting the right people into your business is sometimes not very easy. We're working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds, giving them a chance to get that first vault up the ladder, so there's a bit of a feelgood factor, but our basic motive is business sense."

The scheme has matched up its first three young people in dealerships in Wales, England and Scotland. Individuals from Barnardo's backgrounds will complete a 13-week paid placement with the dealer, of which nine weeks will be spent in the department of their choice: be it sales, mechanics or front of house. The scheme includes the chance to complete part of an NVQ, and after that, there's the possibility of continuing as an apprentice.

But as Mr Tozer points out, individual care - by both dealers and recruits - is needed. "It's at the pilot stage. We have 150 dealers, but we're not going to roll it out like that. We're choosing people that are good for the dealership, and developing it in that sense can be quite time-consuming. The attention before they go in is based on spending time with individuals, coaching them to an understanding of what will be expected of them, and also spending time with the owner of the dealership."

Maggie Kelly was the driving force behind the scheme at Barnardo's. It took two years to develop, but she pushed the idea through after hearing a Mazda director talk about the Japanese concept of kansai, meaning harmony and a brighter future. "They really wanted to give more than money, and I think our work experience scheme is a vibrant example of what can be done." She had enthusiastic response from a dozen Barnardo's projects: those working with over-16s, and teenagers excluded from school, for example. She adds that other organisations with Barnardo's connections are watching closely to see if the scheme would be transferable.

Donald MacKenzie, after-sales manager at Queensborough Motors in Glasgow, is certainly pleased to have taken on John Paul Green, aged 19, from Barnardo's. "He wanted to make a name for himself and prove a point. He's been asking a lot of questions, and the first thing he said to me was: `I don't want any special favours'.

"This is a major step for some of them. They can now step into work experience whereas before they were getting an awful lot of doors closed in their faces. Some employers think it's bad news, but that's not the case. The guys really want to prove themselves."

And John Paul himself adds that he can see himself continuing in the motor trade. "I'm more than capable of making it work. It's a great opportunity."