Leeds youth job shortage SPECIAL REPORT

DEVELOPING THEIR SKILLS: Marc Rigg, Jo Bravo, Slim Baptiste, Faz Shah and Damon Cooper at Future Arts.  PIC: Simon Hulme
DEVELOPING THEIR SKILLS: Marc Rigg, Jo Bravo, Slim Baptiste, Faz Shah and Damon Cooper at Future Arts. PIC: Simon Hulme
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For 16 to 24-year-olds in Leeds, searching for a job can be a fruitless and often terrifying prospect in 2012.

From university graduates in their twenties to school leavers aged 16, a shrinking jobs pool means there’s less chance of young people finding work – and more competition for the few vacancies that are available.

That means the number of youths on Job Seekers Allowance has rocketed in the last 10 years, with almost 7,500 18 to 24-year-olds registered as claiming the benefit in Leeds in April 2012, compared to around 3,370 in April 2002.

Across the UK, almost a fifth – around 18 per cent – of 16 to 24-year-olds are thought to be unemployed, a figure that has rocketed from 11 per cent in 2002.

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And with tuition fees now costing up to £9,000 per academic year, many graduates are finishing university not only without a job, but with huge amounts of debt.

“I think it’s definitely harder to be a young person today than it was in 2002,” said Sarah Simpson, operations director at Groundwork Leeds, where a dedicated team helps youths into work.

“Certainly the increase in unemployment is having an impact. When we ran our final Future Jobs Fund programme last year, we found that we were working with a lot of graduates.

“We’d already been helping the typical young person who was unemployed, but these graduates were better educated, with A levels and degrees, and they were unable to find a job.

“That was quite an eye-opener for us, as the people we normally come into contact with are people with barriers for unemployment which are quite entrenched by the time they come to us.”

By “entrenched”, Sarah means the type of young person who may not expect or even want to work – those who have achieved poor grades, been excluded from school or have deep-rooted issues.

Organisations like Groundwork Leeds and Future Arts, a Lottery-funded social enterprise in Leeds city centre, exist to help both these disadvantaged youths and graduates armed with qualifications onto the careers ladder.

With hordes of people often competing for one single vacancy, having work experience is more important than ever – and unpaid placements with organisations like Groundwork Leeds often attract hundreds of applicants.

Stiff competition means even basic jobs like cleaning and retail work are demanding previous experience from applicants, something that Marc Rigg, 25, from Bramley, found out to his cost.

“I went for a job in a mobile phone shop and they asked me if I had any experience,” he said.

“I said no. They told me I needed six months experience of working in a mobile phone shop to work in a phone shop.

“I’ve completed various courses at Leeds College of Music, Leeds College of Technology and Leeds City College, but trying to find a job has been a constant struggle.

“I’ve probably applied for more than 100 different jobs in the last two years.”

Marc is now hoping to start a music degree in September, with the ultimate aim of becoming a teacher, and is working on the Fusion programme at Future Arts in a bid to gain further experience.

The centre on Eastgate provides a place for young people to develop skills in creative technologies and gives them a helping hand into the world of work.

So what can be done to improve the outlook for young people in Leeds in 2012?

Suggestions from youths include better careers advice in schools, lower tuition fees, more passionate staff in job centres and easier access to voluntary work placements.

Even so, optimism reigns at Future Arts, where Faz Shah, Kyle Slim Baptiste and Damon Cooper are among those developing music skills, despite having tackled problems from unemployment to homelessness.

Faz, 19, even said he hoped the bad times would create a positive legacy, much like the 1970s economic downturn in America, which led to the development of hip hop music and graffiti.

“There’s a lot of negativity about employment but I’m not disheartened by it,” he said.

“Through every hard time, we learn something. These are the times that people start their own projects up and create long-lasting creative legacies.

“People have to be pushed to the edge for them to achieve something great.”

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