One hundred jobless young adults, many out of work for at least six months, came to a seemingly routine job fair in Hackney to find royalty in attendance and that their dreams for work had finally been answered.
The Peabody-owned Pembury estate in Dalston, where half the 5,000 residents live in poverty, has never hosted a member of the royal family before, but yesterday Prince Andrew broke new ground and brought unexpectedly good news. As patron of our apprenticeship campaign, he came to launch an exciting new partnership between Ladder for London and a Peabody-led consortium of 17 construction companies that, between them, have agreed to provide 161 blue-collar apprenticeships. It involves some of Britain’s top construction companies and includes 20 apprenticeships pledged by Mace, builders of The Shard, 50 by Lakehouse, responsible for the 2012 Olympic Equestrian Centre, and 10 by housing association Peabody.
It marks an exciting new phase of our campaign, supplementing the 739 white-collar apprenticeships already pledged and taking the total apprenticeships created by Ladder for London since last September to 900.
“The answer ‘no’ is not an answer you should ever accept,” the Duke of York told the would-be apprentices who were filling in CVs and talking to employers. “By coming here, you are showing leadership and aspiration. With 161 apprenticeships on offer, you have a chance to change your life and reshape your communities and with it, this city. This is a great opportunity. I urge you, grab it with both hands.”
For youngsters such as Justin Smith, 21, who has been rebuffed by employers “200 times” but has kept applying, it marked a watershed moment. Within weeks he could be deployed on buildings such as The Shard or the Tate Modern extension as an electrical, plumbing or construction apprentice.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find work,” he told Andrew. “Since I was made redundant five months ago, I spend every day applying for jobs on the internet, but I’ve only had two interviews.”
He has four good GCSEs, a Duke of Edinburgh award and a stint in the Territorial Army under his belt. “The competition is so fierce with hundreds applying for every job,” he added. “I am here to meet employers and apply for an electrical apprenticeship. Whatever’s going, to be honest, I’m desperate, I will take it.”
He was joined by Michael Oni, 20, unemployed for 10 months since losing his part-time job as a Waitrose shelf-stacker. Michael’s mother died when he was young and after growing up in foster care, he lives with his sister, a graduate in forensic science. “I have six GCSEs and loads of enthusiasm,” he said. “To be unemployed for so long can knock your confidence. I want to apply for an apprenticeship in plumbing.”
Andrew also met four electrical and carpentry apprentices who have just started working for Ardmore on the adjacent Pembury Circus construction of 268 flats for Peabody. “What were you doing before this?” he wanted to know as he watched them at work in a training Portakabin. “Working at Nando’s,” came the reply above the din of a drill. “I wasn’t learning nothing, but now I am getting a proper qualification and paid at the same time.”
Ardmore has pledged to take 10 apprentices as part of the Peabody collaboration with Ladder for London. With one in four young people unemployed in the capital, rising to one in two on inner-city estates, regeneration projects such as Pembury Circus are sorely needed. At a job fair last month on Peabody’s Prior Green estate in Islington, up to 1,000 unemployed people arrived seeking work.
With only half the people on the Pembury estate leaving school with five good GCSEs of A-star to C, local youngsters struggle to compete.
Across the road from Pembury, the shuttered “Lowcost Convenience Store” and the ‘BOOK HOP” (the S long gone) provide a depressing backdrop for bored youths. In contrast the Peabody job fair fizzed with hope and expectation. For Katherine Southey, 19, who has applied for nearly 100 jobs without success despite achieving seven good GCSEs, meeting the prince and speaking to employers was potentially life changing.
“It’s been demoralising getting knocked back,” she told him. “Hopefully I can sign up for a design and construction apprenticeship and get my foot in the door. For the first time in months I feel hopeful.” Candidates aged 16 to 24, who may be Peabody residents or from surrounding communities, will be matched by Peabody with prospective employers and will be offered pre-apprenticeship training of up to four weeks to make them job ready.
The level-2 and level-3 apprenticeship training leading to an NVQ qualification in construction will be done by the employers or colleges. Peabody chairman Christopher Strickland said: “I began my career in the construction industry and in those days all the builders trained their own apprentices. Over the years that’s been eroded and the result is we’ve de-skilled the sector. I am delighted to be re-skilling the construction industry through this brilliant Peabody and Ladder for London initiative.”
Stephen Howlett, chief executive of Peabody, added: “This call to action will change hundreds of lives and help build much-needed homes. The Standard’s campaign has caught the imagination of young people and we’re proud to be part of it.”
Other builders offering apprenticeships through our consortium include Wates, house builders Crest Nicholson, gas servicing contractors K&T Heating Services and affordable housing experts Galliford Try.
Andrew stayed for an hour talking to employers and potential recruits. “If we are to solve some of the more difficult problems in this country, I believe it has to be a local solution,” he said. “This campaign is a classic example of the media being a force for good and of catalysing something that is immensely positive for society.” The Roll of Honour can be viewed at: www.standard.co.uk/news/work/ladder-for-london-roll-of-honour.