An employee places a package into a distribution box at an Amazon.com Inc. fulfilment center. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Twenty-four year old Matt Woodall had been unemployed for a year and, like many young people who struggle with their self-esteem, felt he had few talents to offer prospective bosses.
“It was my confidence that I lacked,” he told The Big Issue, “all the skills that I didn’t know I had, that I didn’t understand that I had.”
Research from qualifications provider City & Guilds has found that, when asked what was holding them back from achieving their career goals, almost a quarter of people aged 18-24 said they don’t feel confident enough or mentally ready to apply for their desired role.
“There are currently 700,000 young people in England who are not in any kind of education, training or employment,” explained Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield, senior policy advisor at youth charity Impetus. “Many of these young people want to work but face barriers – this is a waste of human potential that damages our economy.”
Donna Murphy, a job coach with Big Issue Recruit, said she sees confidence and mental health issues “time and time again” in the young people she supports into work.
“This, coupled with the negative effects of social media, can lead to a significant impact on their confidence and self-belief,” she said. “There are also socio-economic factors at play, such as generational unemployment and confidence in their ability to work, as well as many young people being failed by the education system.”
The impact of the pandemic and lockdowns on young people’s confidence and social skills shouldn’t be underestimated either, Paul Howard-Jones, professor of neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, told the Big Issue.
“When education was no longer face to face, when everything went online, that was a difficult time for young people and that really affected their social confidence.
“You can lose your social confidence very quickly, but the good news is that it can come back very quickly,” he explained.
“What young people really need is to be in the workplace and experiencing those environments. Not just in terms of the work, but also the sort of the more informal communications that happened during coffee times when things are explained in terms of how things are and why things happened in a particular way”.
After a year of feeling unsure how he would rejoin the workforce, Woodall’s jobs coach recommended he join the 10-week Jobs program, short for “journey of becoming successful”, designed and delivered by children’s charity Barnardo’s in partnership with Amazon. After completing the course, the coach said he was “totally different”.
“When I first joined I was shy, I didn’t talk to a lot of people, I didn’t really want to do anything, introvert stuff. After I did the course… I’m confident and I know what I want to do now.”
With its 157 years of history as a children’s charity, Barnardo’s has partnered with e-commerce giant Amazon to offer training and workplace experience to young people at risk of long-term unemployment.
The partnership’s Jobs Project has been developed and delivered by Barnardo’s, with sponsorship from Amazon, to offer young people a 10-week course to prepare them for the world of work. Focusing on employability, participants receive training on CV writing and interview technique, and build on teamwork, communication and confidence skills.
Alex Perkins, Amazon’s workforce engagement placement manager, who developed the partnership, told the Big Issue that while the program was originally designed to support care-leavers into work, it has now expanded to include any young person aged 18-29 who is not in education or employment, and feels at risk of that situation becoming long-term.
“Our ambition is to support 500 people by the end of 2025,” he said, with 65 young people having taken the project since 2021, and 85 per cent successfully going on to employment or education.
The course also includes a visit to Amazon’s fulfilment warehouses to see what working for the company could look like, and ends with a guaranteed job interview with Amazon.
Amazon warehouses across the UK saw a wave of wildcat strikes last summer, with the first ever formal strike at an Amazon workplace held in January this year. Some employees have criticised the company for having a “pressure-cooker” environment, while calling for higher pay.
Asked whether this project might be seen by some as an attempt by Amazon to improve its image as an employer, Perkins said that the project is “unrelated” to such past events. “Barnardo’s gives information in the course about what it’s like to work at Amazon,” he said, “and then shows the different opportunities that exist elsewhere.”
The partnership between Amazon and Barnado’s is not the only programme looking to help young people or those lacking opportunity to get their foot in the door to make a regular income.
Big Issue Recruit, launched in September 2022, is a specialist recruitment service supporting people before, during and after employment. Murphy said young people need a variety of experiences to support them in building themselves back up into a better position.
“This allows them to make informed decisions about where they want their future career path to lead,” she said. “One week of work experience in one place is not always a relevant or positive experience and often isn’t designed with the needs and wants of the young person in mind.”
The majority of participants in the Barnado’s/Amazon scheme have so far gone on to work with Amazon, said Perkins, but “more and more we’re encouraging young people to think about where they want to go, and if that’s Amazon, that’s fantastic, if it’s somewhere else, then perfect because they’ve had the opportunity to pick themselves what they want to do.”
For course participant Matt Woodall, who spoke to the Big Issue on a joint call with Alex Perkins, that destination was indeed Amazon. After the 10-week course, he secured a job at Amazon’s Tilbury warehouse, and has his sights set on an apprenticeship at the company.
“The goal obviously wasn’t to join Amazon, but now that I’m there I can see myself in a career with Amazon,” he says.
Woodall is also hoping to use his new income to move out of his parents’ home and into a place of his own, with the confidence to do it alone. And it was the course that made the difference, he said.
For Howard-Jones, the practical experience is invaluable for breaking down some of the barriers that come with a lack of confidence.
“I think rather than having courses with flipcharts and having something explained to you, young people really need to have opportunities to get into places that could be like placements or attending events where people from the workplace are,” he said. “It’s that kind of face-to-face contact that helps people understand what a professional capacity really means.”
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