Skill Up Step Up: Meet the new recruits being helped onto the career ladder

At a ‘welcome day’ for new recruits at City Gateway - the second traineeship provider funded by our £1m campaign to skill up jobless youth - we meet three young people seeking help

David Cohen
Investigations editor
,Maya Yagoda
Tuesday 07 December 2021 10:13
Skill Up Step Up: City Gateway joins The Independent's Christmas appeal

Steve, 21, sat down and said: “I wrote my GCSEs from Great Ormond Street Hospital and that was where I met a social worker who inspired me, so, yes, that’s why I am here – because that was my low point and I want to do social work and help others like they helped me - but I need your help to get there.”

Aisha, 17, spoke softly and looked away. “I am here because I’ve made loads of job applications, none successful, and I need to change how I come across because I am really shy.”

Marcus, 20, seemed reluctant to explain what he had been doing but then decided to share: “I am here because I never had a full-time legitimate job in my life and because, to be honest …” he paused, hesitant again, “I want to go legal.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Click here to make a donation and help us give more young people the training they need to get into work

These were the answers these three young Londoners gave when asked – what brought you here? – at a welcome day to induct 55 new jobless trainees onto City Gateway’s latest employability programme.

Polly Hughes, spokesperson for City Gateway, and one of several staff assessing the raw recruits at their open-plan headquarters on the Isle of Dogs, said: “There is a massive difference between how they come across now and how they will sound by the end of our programme, especially after they get the external validation from the work experience that allows them to believe, ‘yes, I can do this’.”

City Gateway is the second charity we are funding to skill up disadvantaged jobless young adults to make them “work ready” as part of our £1m Skill Up Step Up Christmas appeal across the The Independent and Evening Standard in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills.

Whereas Springboard, the charity partner confirmed yesterday, is focused on hospitality, City Gateway prepares youngsters to enter an array of sectors – including digital media, marketing and IT. Their course ranges from 12 to 20 weeks and they offer level two maths and English to get trainees to the minimum standard required by employers, as well as providing digital and employability skills – such as time management, presentation skills, problem solving, team work and interview preparation.

Each recruit undergoes a series of individual 20-minute interviews with different staff members to assess their resilience and how far from the work place they are and whether they need the full 20 week course or a pared down version. Polly said: “Young people usually come in under-confident and some struggle with shame. But the biggest thing we see is loss of self-belief because they have been told over and over that they are a failure. Our aim is to change that narrative and unlock their potential.”

Steve, whose GCSEs were interrupted by illness, has been trying to get a job in social care for months

Polly, who had been assigned these three young adults, asked each about their previous jobs, hobbies and passions and what “transferable skills” they had acquired.

Aisha’s answers were punctuated by heavy silences. She had no work experience except for a week volunteering at a Mind charity shop, she said. She didn’t know what “transferable skills” were but added: “I love baking muffins.” Soon Polly was teasing out of her the transferable skills baking entailed: planning, buying ingredients, measuring and timing. As Aisha got drawn in, she became relaxed and opened up. Later Polly said: “Aisha is far from the work place but meet her in a few months when she has done our course and you will be amazed at the transformation.”

In contrast, Steve spoke with poise and self-awareness as he engaged Polly. “I have been trying to find a job in social care for months but they say I need level two English and Maths and so I fall short,” he said.

The southeast Londoner added: “I suffered from anorexia in my teens and ended up missing a year of school and barely talking to anyone my age for 18 months. I sat GCSEs from my hospital bed and failed. I was bullied at school and suffered anxiety. The only silver lining was that I got brilliant therapy and help from a social worker and that helped me to come out of my shell and has inspired me to help other kids. I feel nothing’s impossible because I’ve come from an impossible situation. My father is a concierge in Canary Wharf and he encourages me to have a better life than he’s had.”

Marcus, from Newham, was all clammed up and spoke in staccato sentences. He had worked part-time at Iceland. “Hated it.” Couldn’t think of a transferable skill. “I’ve applied so many jobs. Can’t even count.”

But when Polly broached his passion, he came to life. “Crypto,” he said brightly. “I like figuring out which crypto is best. I check out their website, see who’s involved, assess their plans and if it looks solid, I invest. Now my friends come to me for advice.” His interest arose, he said, because he was getting paid in Bitcoin. “Sometimes it went up and I made a sh**load and sometimes it went down and I got upset, so I started to research and realised that Bitcoin was probably the worst of the lot.”

Asked what job he hoped to get, he looked uncomfortable. “I’m not a bad person,” he said. “My mum is fine with me earning Bitcoin. It’s just how I get it that she doesn’t like. I’ve been self-employed until now, you know, buying and selling stuff, so going to work for a legit company is going to be a challenge for me.” He paused. “My problem is that I have no legit references to put on my CV and I really need help to start this new phase of my life.”

Polly responded: “That’s a lot of transferable skills you have, including sales and marketing expertise, the importance of research, risk spreading.” She smiled. “I think you might be closer to the job market than you think.”

Only around 6 per cent of City Gateway’s recruits have had prior criminal activity, but most, said Polly, have put it behind them and gone on to make fresh starts and have successful careers. Many more, like Steve, arrive without functional maths and English skills, almost 40 per cent, she added. “Despite these disadvantages, we have a 50 per cent success rate for getting NEETs [Not in Education, Employment, or Training] into employment, education or further training, which is double the industry average.”

Diane Betts, chief executive at City Gateway, looked on as the trainees were put through their paces. She said: “We know that there is an incredible pool of hidden talent in this Covid-19 cohort. Whilst our coaching model achieves positive outcomes for those on our programme, many more young people need our support. It is our joint responsibility to improve individual life chances and unlock their potential. We invite employers to grasp this window of opportunity and help us change society.”

The names of Marcus and Aisha have been changed

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, use click here.

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