Paisley care centre turns employer to boost prospects for 'at risk' youngsters

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Enterprise hub enables them to go to work on house-building projects and maintenance of Premier League team's ground

Kibble Education and Care Centre used to focus on training its "at risk" young people for jobs when they left care - but now it has reversed the policy and turned itself into an employer.

With job prospects poor at the height of the recession, its enterprise manager, Jim Mullan, says there is no point relying on business to employ some of the most challenging youngsters.

So Paisley-based Kibble has put them to work, building houses and maintaining the grounds of their local Premier League football team.

Youth unemployment in Scotland is rising and an additional 1,600 16-24 year-olds have signed on in the past year.

The charity knew that, ultimately, its care leavers would be disappointed once they tried to enter the jobs market, so it decided to create its own "end destinations".

KibbleWorks has 35 places for 16 to 18-year-olds. Next year, it plans to add a further 80 places for young people aged up to 25.

"The stats suggest that if they make it past their late teens and into their 20s, they've got a real chance. With this model, support will not be whipped away like a cloth being pulled off a table by a magician," says Mr Mullan, who manages KibbleWorks, the centre's enterprise and employment hub.

Among what he describes as Kibble's "headline acts" is its construction operation, which began with staff taking a chance, buying a site in Renfrew, getting planning permission for two houses and using Kibble joiners, landscapers and metal fabricators to complete the work. In April, KibbleWorks will be "completely redeveloping" a terrace of five houses in Linwood.

Another strand of its work involves Premier League team St Mirren FC. The club moved to its new stadium in January last year, and Kibble took on the contract for maintaining the grounds. There are also plans for the charity to help further develop the stadium, adding to the existing complement of boardrooms and hospitality facilities.

On top of that, Kibble has its own 17-acre campus to maintain and gives youngsters experience of catering in its kitchens.

"We have no moral authority to place demands on the private sector unless we demonstrate we are prepared to participate in the process ourselves. The expectation is: we do the training and they do employment. We can't deliver 31,000 jobs, but we can deliver more than we do," he told a More Choices, More Chances conference in Edinburgh last week.

Janet Brown, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, told the same conference her organisation was increasing its range of qualifications so that young people who had never before received certificates could feel they had achieved something and got the boost to their self-esteem they needed to continue.

But Mr Mullan said it was crucial not to put the cart before the horse. Earning a wage and working, Kibble had found, spurred young people on to take their learning further.

He was also dismissive of young people gaining qualifications which meant nothing in the real world.

"When I arrived at Kibble, we had kids gaining qualifications in English when somebody else had done the reading and the writing. Beyond our rarefied atmosphere, nobody knows what that means."

He added: "I understand that young people need recognition and want to feel a sense of achievement, but it's our experience they have a great sense of achievement when they get paid for working and receive bonuses every time they do more than was expected."

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