Freed from life on benefit

IT MIGHT be hard to talk careers to unemployed youths on a housing estate but outreach work can be crucial in releasing them from a life on benefit. Coventry's Quality Careers Company has tried to reach the growing numbers of youngsters who have previously slipped through the net, writes Allen Edwards.

Last year 12 per cent of 16-year-olds in Coventry were jobless or nothing was known about what they did after school. Among them is a hard core of alienated youngsters, many of whom have been involved in crime.

Service manager Ashley Hayward said: "When you approach a group of young people who you are trying to trace they often think you are checking to see whether they are working while claiming benefits.

"You get lads saying to you - I just want a job - but the sort of jobs they want no longer exist. They want to get stuck into a hard physical job where they can be stripped to the waist. Many of them think of office work as cissy or somehow dishonest.

"What they mean by work is what their fathers or grandfathers did. It is particularly hard dealing with people who are second or third generation unemployed because their ideas of work are in the past."

The company also runs a project called Breakthrough, which encourages the most disillusioned. It pays young people up to Pounds 15 a day to go on one-day taster courses or work placements.

The scheme is expensive because it offers one-to-one assistance. However, last year it helped 96 out of 180 participants to get jobs or training.

Steve Stewart, managing director of Quality Careers, said: "Making a difference to disadvantaged young people is the greatest challenge facing the careers service today. Somebody has got to help them to believe in themselves. "

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