Business urged to build on skills of the homeless

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYERS risk missing out on the skills of a generation and may find themselves without trained workers in a few years' time, according to Sheila McKechnie, director of Shelter, the charity for the homeless.

That is just one of the reasons why Ms McKechnie is urging employers to get involved in the Foyer scheme, which aims to provide accommodation, training and, eventually, work for 16 to 25-year-olds who have neither a job nor a home.

The Foyer scheme is based on experience in France, where there are now 500 centres offering 45,000 beds. The idea has taken off in Britain with help from several businesses: Grand Metropolitan has led the way, seconding Don MacDonald to act as Foyer's chief executive; Ladbroke has made available a large building in Liverpool, rent-free for five years; Ideal Homes and McAlpine are converting empty office buildings into hostels.

Mr MacDonald said he saw the Foyer initiative as an opportunity for business to provide assistance, without interfering in the responsibilities of government.

Foyer is negotiating to obtain other buildings and additional secondments, and wants more employers to sponsor skill training places. Some companies, particularly in retailing, are offering guaranteed jobs at the end of the training schemes as a means of stabilising their future recruitment.

Ms McKechnie said Shelter was sponsoring the Foyer scheme because it is in the interests of the employers as well as the unemployed homeless. 'One of the big problems for young people is to manage the transition away from the family,' she said.

'Foyer provides a safety net for people who need a leg-up to independence. It breaks the syndrome of no home, so no job, so no home.

'From the employer's point of view, there is still a demographic time bomb. They will need these young people in the future. It may be difficult to see that at the moment, but there will be an enormous shortage of labour, and we can't afford to let a generation go to waste. If we aren't careful, there won't be the type of people around that industry needs.'

(Photograph omitted)