No ceiling to what I can do: Skill Up Step Up campaign delivers job-winning skills for 400

Michelle Jideofor was feeling demoralised before Skill Up Step Up helped her  (Lucy Young)
Michelle Jideofor was feeling demoralised before Skill Up Step Up helped her (Lucy Young)

More than 400 jobless young Londoners have been upskilled and over 200 have secured jobs or apprenticeships thanks to our Skill Up Step Up campaign.

In a panel discussion this week at the Canary Wharf HQ of Barclays, which backed our two-year initiative with a £1 million donation, once unemployed youths told a 100-strong audience how their lives had been transformed.

“I know now that I am enough,” said one. “I feel there is no ceiling on what I can do,” said another. “I used to feel despair but now I have hope,” added a third.

Our scheme, launched 15 months ago in partnership with The Independent and the Barclays LifeSkills programme, addressed the conundrum of 20 per cent youth unemployment in London in the wake of the pandemic at a time of record job vacancies of 1.2 million countrywide — and it did so by tackling the skills gap and upgrading the competencies of the jobless.

Duro Oye, chief executive of 2020 Change, who along with City Gateway, Springboard, Resurgo and First Rung, has been funded to provide empowerment training to disadvantaged youth as well as entrées to employers, chaired the panel discussion.

Barclays panel discussion with formerly jobless youth for our Skill Up Step Up campaign (Lucy Young)
Barclays panel discussion with formerly jobless youth for our Skill Up Step Up campaign (Lucy Young)

He said: “Many youths who come to us have finished school and gone to university, but they don’t know how to navigate the corporate space. Our job is to equip them withthe skills and network to complete the last mile. It is also about changing their mindset to believe they can succeed in white collar jobs.”

Jess Jones of Nando’s, one of over 100 employers who have supported our campaign by hiring upskilled youth, said the high quality of candidates had been borne out by “the great labour retention levels” of those they hired.

Kate Markey, of The London Community Foundation which managed the initiative, said the “extreme inequality between haves and have-nots” in the capital “compelled us to act”.

‘As a black guy with dreadlocks who grew up in Brixton, I felt they would never accept me, so I didn’t try’

Emmanuel Darlington, 28

Emmanuel had done all the right things since coming to London as a six-year-old from Nigeria, studying hard and getting a 2.1 in his business management degree from Wolverhampton University, but one insurmountable obstacle prevented him getting started in his career. He could not see himself employed in a corporate setting. “I never knew people who looked like me in the corporate world,” he said. “As a black guy with dreadlocks who grew up in Brixton, I felt they would never accept me, so I didn’t try.”

 (Lucy Young)
(Lucy Young)

The arrival of his son 15 months ago was a key moment. Until then, Emmanuel had dabbled in business, buying and reselling high-end trainers, but his income was volatile, varying between £3,000 a month and nothing. He needed a steady salary and turned to the youth empowerment organisation, 2020 Change, that had just helped his younger sister get a job with LexisNexis. “I saw huge change in my sister,” he said. “She had dropped out of uni and was lost but they got her on her feet and I thought, maybe they can sort me.”

Emmanuel signed up to their 10-week “I Am Change Programme” last year. “My expectations had been to get rich quick and buy my own yacht but I began to realise none of it was real. They got me to plan and strategise, but the biggest shift was in my head. Duro, who heads up the programme, is black like me and he encouraged me to see myself as having a future in the corporate world. I interviewed for a consultancy job at Staffing 360, a recruitment company that I met through a 2020 job fair. I got in and now earn a healthy salary. My niche is pushing diversity and inclusion in recruitment. I love it and feel confident and happy.”

‘With the training and support help I can go far’

Michelle Jideofor, 22

Michelle had made more than 25 job applications without success and was feeling demoralised when she came across the youth empowerment programme at 2020 Change last April. As a teenager, Michelle had come over from Botswana full of promise brandishing As at A-level, but she found remote learning over the pandemic at Bristol University tough and lost interest in her civil engineering studies.

 (Lucy Young)
(Lucy Young)

“My sister and I were the first in my family to go to university so I finished my degree but I felt aimless and had no direction,” she said. “At 2020 Change we covered topics they had not taught us in school or university but are essential for life. We had to project ourselves forward five years and speak to our cohort and that boosted my confidence. I said that I was interested in management consultancy and 2020 Change arranged for me to be one of three girls applying for a business analyst job at Warn & Co, a consultancy focusing on business transformation.”

Michelle added: “I attended a dinner at a business club where we rotated to different staff members. There was a second round of interviews and then I heard I got the job. With the training and support and network I have here, I feel hope and believe I can go far.”

‘I worried I would face unconscious bias at work’

Dunsin Adetunji, 18

When Dunsin looks out from the sixth floor at Man Group hedge fund overlooking London Bridge, she sometimes has to pinch herself. “The best part is that I used to lack confidence. Now I have an apprenticeship at a company beyond my wildest dreams,” she said.

 (Lucy Young)
(Lucy Young)

Dunsin found herself in a cul de sac last year after attending the Fashion Retail Academy post school and realising she did not want to go into the industry. She saw an advert for a programme at City Gateway, a charity that provides free training for disadvantaged young people in east London, and she joined their fast-track course in August. “They taught me to present myself: not to swallow my words, to make eye contact, not to spin on my chair and to thoroughly research the company I was applying to.”

Six months ago, City Gateway told her of opportunities at Man Group and she secured an apprenticeship in their communications division. “At first I would sit in comms meetings and never talk but now I have learned to share my ideas,” she said. “My parents told me the workplace can be unfair for black people and I worried I would face unconscious bias, but it’s much more diverse than I thought. It is amazing to realise I can do this.”