Skill Up Step Up: Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi backs our campaign for jobs for young people

Nadhim Zahawi, an Iraqi refugee as a child, said he was ‘living proof that there is no such thing as a linear education journey’

Anna Davis
Deputy Campaigns Editor
Friday 10 December 2021 10:00
Skill Up Step Up: Christmas campaign launched to support London's jobless youth

The education secretary has thrown his weight behind our Skill Up Step Up campaign, saying he is living proof that there is no single route to a great career.

Nadhim Zahawi likened himself to the “phenomenal young people” highlighted in our Christmas appeal, who are being given a chance to realise their potential and step into sustainable jobs or apprenticeships.

As a child, Mr Zahawi was forced to flee his home country of Iraq with his family. He grew up in Sussex and his mother insisted he went to university and reportedly pawned her jewellery so he would not have to worry about finances.

Responding to the The Independent’s joint campaign with the Evening Standard, he said: “Like the phenomenal young people highlighted in your Christmas appeal, I am living proof that there is no such thing as a linear education journey. I started school in Iraq and if it hadn’t been for Saddam Hussein, I would no doubt have happily stayed there. But under Saddam, I would have either ended up in one of his prisons or fighting in the war with Iran.

“So instead, I came to this country with my family at the age of 11 without knowing a word of English. And I’m now in Her Majesty’s government, the MP for Shakespeare’s county and the secretary of state for education. There really is no one, single route to a great career or dream job.”

He added that as education secretary he wants to make sure that all young people have the same chance to realise their potential.

Our £1m Skill Up Step Up initiative, in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills, will support charities that help unemployed and disadvantaged young Londoners to be “work ready”.

A special investigation by this newspaper found that youth unemployment in the capital has soared by 55 per cent since the start of the pandemic to 105,000, with 21 per cent of young people seeking work jobless. At the same time there is a record 1.17 million job vacancies nationwide, especially in hospitality. Among young black Londoners the jobless rate rises to 37 per cent.

Our Christmas appeal is urging unemployed young people to sign up for free employability training from one of the two charity partners we have announced so far – Springboard and City Gateway. We are also calling on employers to step up to the plate and offer these young people a job or an apprenticeship, and for readers to donate so we can support even more disadvantaged youth into jobs.

Mr Zahawi said: “I strongly believe that every young person should have the best start in life so they can progress and secure a rewarding, well-paid job. That’s why we have put tackling the skills gap at the heart of our reforms to education and training.”

He added: “But there is still more to do. So it is brilliant that the Evening Standard and Independent is championing young people across London getting the necessary skills to get good apprenticeships or jobs. We are committed to opening doors, offering high-quality options for young people to consider after the age of 16, to help them reach their career goals.”

Our campaign in a nutshell

What are we doing? We have launched Skill Up Step Up, a £1m initiative in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills to upskill unemployed and disadvantaged young Londoners so they can be “work ready” and step up into sustainable jobs or apprenticeships.

Why are we doing this? Youth unemployment in London has soared by 55 per cent to 105,000 since the start of the pandemic, meaning that 21 per cent of 16-24 year-olds are jobless at a time of record job vacancies of 1.17 million countrywide. This mismatch, caused largely by an employability skills and experience gap, is leading to wasted lives and billions of pounds of lost productivity for our economy.

How will it work? The £1m from Barclays will provide grant funding over two years for up to five outstanding handpicked charities that provide disadvantaged jobless young Londoners with employability skills and wrap-around care to get them into the labour market and transform their lives. The charity partners we have announced so far are:

1) Springboard – they will support young people into jobs in the hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, bars, leisure and tourism) via a three to six-week programme that includes one-to-one mentoring, soft skills and employability development (confidence, work attitude, CV building, interview practice, time management), practical industry and hard skills training including food safety and customer service, as well as access to work experience placements.

2) City Gateway – they will get young people work ready with a 12-week employability programme, including digital skills, a work placement, CV and interview skills and a dedicated one-to-one coach, extending to up to 20 weeks if they need English and/or maths qualifications, enabling them to gain entry level positions including apprenticeships in a wide range of sectors, including finance, digital media, marketing, retail, property and IT.

More partner charities will be announced in due course.

How can the young and jobless skill up? If you are aged 16-24 and want to upskill towards a job in hospitality, contact Springboard here.

If you want to upskill towards a job in any other sector, contact City Gateway here.

For tools, tips and learning resources visit

How can employers step up? We want companies – large, medium and small – to step up to the plate with a pledge to employ one or more trainees in a job or apprenticeship. They could work in your IT, customer service, human resources, marketing or sales departments, or any department with entry-level positions. You will be provided with a shortlist of suitable candidates to interview. To get the ball rolling, contact the London Community Foundation, who are managing the process on:

How can readers help? The more money we raise, the more young people we can skill up. To donate, click here.

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