In 2005 I wanted to improve diversity in the TV and media industries. I saw that not enough people of colour were represented behind the scenes and not enough of their ideas came through to our screens. So I decided to start working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (BAME, NEETs) and give them the training they need to follow their passion and secure long term employment in the industry. Many years down the road, when youth unemployment is still rampant and both the government and the civil society are looking for solutions, I wanted to share my experience. Here are the five steps that I found to be critical in trying to curb youth unemployment:
1. Be compassionate - Get to know who you're trying to help
It sounds obvious, I know. But too many times, back-to-work organisations offer off the shelf solutions for anyone who crosses their doorstep. While these solutions might work for some, they often leave out the most vulnerable. This is why I believe that understanding the background of those who you're trying to help is vital. Unemployment seldom is a voluntary condition. More often than not, it is rooted in deep problems that need to be discussed, understood and, finally, overcome. How can you help a 17 year-old with an aggressive behaviour if you don't understand what is causing those reactions? How can you find the right incentives for someone who has a history of self harm, if you don't understand their vulnerabilities?
In my 9 years of working with disadvantaged young people, I've seen how important it is to sit people down and talk to them. Many of the young people that come to our charity, Mama Youth Project (MYP), could never jump right into a working environment because they lack the most basic skills and work ethics. Either because they come from families where unemployment was the norm, they were part of a gang, or they have behavior issues due to being abused in the past, these youngsters need to first unload their baggage, get the emotional support they need and then move on to acquiring the skills needed in the work place.
2. Be niche - Help them follow a dream
If you want to be successful in securing long-term employment for young people, I believe the most efficient formula is getting people to follow their dream. In my charity, we are very focused on people who want to help themselves. Who are passionate about what they want to do in life. At a time when many young people steer away from being career focused, we select the ones who really are dedicated.
This is not a formula for those who expect quick results on a large scale. But it works for us. We work with Job Centres and other charities that refer to us young people who really want to work in the TV industry. Sure, we are niche. But we specialise on providing the industry with talented young people, with the right skills, and the right attitude, who can bring fresh ideas on to your TV screen. So instead of just finding someone a job today, we set them on a career path and give the market talented and passionate workforce.
Fighting for your dream is also key when the pressure is on. When trainees have to stay in the office late into the night to meet a deadline, when they keep bumping into obstacles or have their ideas shut down. Our training is not easy. Changing old habits, starting to respect authority at the workplace, learning to respect colleagues and work in teams, these may seem straightforward for those in employment. But for an ex-offender who wants to change his/her ways, these are challenges that can only be overcome with great determination.
3. Be practical - Offer hands on training
Now imagine that you are a TV producer looking through CVs, trying to hire someone. Which resume would stand out: one that says TV production course? or one that says trainee producer for TV show commissioned by Sky television? At MYP, we offer more than just training. We offer our participants the chance to actually work on a arts and culture TV show that is broadcast by a mainstream broadcaster. During their 3 months with us, they research, film, and edit 6 episodes of a magazine show that covers entertainment, current affairs and social issues.
It's not easy to get a high quality show working with people that have never touched a camera before or have never been in a working environment. The work is hard and stressful. But that's precisely why getting hands on training, rather than just theoretical courses, are much more successful in preparing trainees for future employment. Our participants know what they should expect in the work place and are prepared with the soft and technical skills that impress employers.
4. Be collaborative - Work with partners
Over the last 4 years 81% of our participants have still been in paid employment or a work placement 6 months after the completion of their course. After our recent Winter 2013 course 87.5% of the participants found employment or a work placement in a media related environment. The training alone, could never achieve such results. This success is also due to the partnerships we have with the industry. I believe that working with companies and getting them to mentor, hire or provide work experience for our trainees is one of the things that sets us apart.
No matter how much you train someone, their CV will always look better after they've actually been vouched for by a big name in the industry. For example, in TV, if Sky, BBC or a big production company has taken them on board, the door is already open for them. But as that first step is ever so hard to make for young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is important that we help. Our charity has built its reputation of offering quality training and providing skilled talent, so it is easier for us to nudge that door open and help trainees make their first contacts and networks in the industry.
5. Just be there - Support their career development
The last lesson that I want to share is 'don't say job done too early'. We discovered that the more support we give our alumni, the better. Even if someone is now in full time employment, it is important not to forget that it may be their first job, or at least the first one in the industry. So why not let them know that they can pick up the phone when they have questions, are not sure how to cope with a work situation or just need advice on next their career move. At MYP, we try to provide alumni support as much as possible, even if this sometimes only means inviting them to networking events or launch parties. Staying in touch with the alumni allows you to monitor their progress, see how you can improve your training, but also use their personal success stories to motivate the next generations. It all adds up and, at the end of the day, you can build a community of talented young people who are grateful for the support received and who are ready to help others.