At BTEG we have often considered why there is such high youth unemployment, especially amongst BAME young people. We discuss the lack of opportunities directly related to qualifications and aspirations but actually see a major reason for youth unemployment as being lack of ‘oomph’ in young people.
Whether it’s through placements, at job interviews or even attending events, we too often see a laid back approach to life. Only yesterday, a friend told me about her 18 year old son who is academically bright but has openly asked her to ‘get a job for me’.
He is not alone in not wanting to make the effort and expecting jobs, money, houses and cars to fall into their laps.
I am sure I’m not alone with been frustrated in the lack of take-up by young people of projects designed to help them to be more employable and get noticed.
What are your experiences of trying to recruit young people?
Photo: Victor Vic via Creative Commons
I'd never given serious thought about what it would be like to be locked up behind bars 24/7.
When I was growing up, I heard the stories about ‘Feltham’ being like a holiday camp. To be honest, I thought there was some truth in it. I saw young men I had grown up with, one after the other enter ‘Feltham’ and keep going back. There was no deterrent, which made me think it must be better than life on the outside!
It wasn't until I started working at BTEG that I got a sound understanding of how the criminal justice system works and could truly appreciate the issues and difficulties prisoners face. Not only was it an eye opener for me to talk to the men experiencing the British criminal justice system and to the prison staff but, just as important, I was working with role models who had been through it and had a positive outlook.
But the young men describing Feltham as a ‘holiday camp’ played over and over in my mind and hearing that many had the luxuries of televisions and computer consoles at their disposal. One of our R2S role models assured me that being in any type of prison was no stroll in the park. I asked him if that was the case why so many reoffended. Surely if the experience is that bad they would stay away.
His description of what the prisoners see as a ‘brotherhood’ put things into perspective for me.
Imagine being on the outside, free from the restraints of an oppressive 24 hour ‘bang up’ regime, but having no-one or nothing. No family because your dad left when you were young and your mum worked around the clock to bring in the little money that she could. So you only had your friends from the ‘endz’. Not real friends because they showed you how to ‘shot’ to make ends meet, steal and lie to those around you.
Then you end up behind bars and meet like-minded people. People who have been through what you have. People who understand where you are coming from and so you form that ‘brotherhood’. Then the visits from your loved ones become less frequent. As the inmates from HMP Wayland in Norfolk explain: “it's just too far to travel from London” and the expenses you incur from one visit makes it “impossible to have regular visits”. So you get lonely and lean on your fellow inmates for support.
Added to this you have prison staff without a clue about what it means to be a young black man; isolated and alone in Norfolk never having experienced life outside their ‘all white’ Norfolk village. So again you look to your brothers inside for that united front.
Years down the line and you are due for release but that all becomes daunting as you have become ‘institutionalised’; used to being in this environment. Comfortable.
The prisoners at HMP Wayland and Thameside shared their fears of being released. Not being able to provide for their family, being broke, dealing with a hostile environment, mental strength, getting a job, friends. The list goes on!
All these fears are playing on their mind upon release and then they face the harsh realities when they get out. It can be overwhelming and hard to get through, especially if your ideas of a ‘man’ means being able to provide for your family but you are repeatedly turned down by employers.
So you turn back to what you know best and make some money which leads to you ending up back behind bars!
This is not always the only reason that these young men reoffend, but it is also going back to your comfort zone – having a roof over your head, the safety of the four walls, others who you can relate to, no one to answer to. Unlike the harsh realities of the outside world, prison can seem like a safety net.
So my opinions have changed. Prison isn't a holiday camp. Anyone who describes it as this has some harsh realities to face up to in the outside world they think that prison is a better place to be. If a young person feels freer in prison than in the outside world we have to realise that society has to address some serious problems and that rehabilitation needs to provide the safety net that these young people need.
In a perfect world, my perfect world, we'd all be genuine; genuine with ourselves, our family and our friends and in the work that we do. I'd hope for a kinder world and a more empathetic one, too, but for now I'll settle with my first step of genuine people and genuine services.
It is easier said than done but I feel it is the best way, especially when working with young people. When given the opportunity to ‘help’ others you should do your best to ‘help’, not just do enough to tick a box or to receive praise but to genuinely support those 'in need'.
Working on BTEG’s Routes2Success programme I have had first hand experience of dealing with young people who are hesitant to engage. Some can be sceptical of services and all that they promise. With so many new organisations offering something better than the last and then disappearing a year later it is understandable. A number of the young people we engage with share a common frustration - the lack of commitment some organisations offer:
‘They visit once or twice a year and then they are gone, they don’t really want to help us’.
I can relate to this frustration, both the 15 year old me and the adult that I am today, I still relate.
When I was 15, attending my local youth club, we had a youth worker named David. He was honestly one of the nicest, most caring individuals you could ever meet. David always wanted the best for us, constantly told us to be good for our parents, stay out of trouble and work hard in school.
One day he suggested that we took part in a community course, the equivalent to 1 GCSE. Most of us were doing well at school but some were struggling. We all signed up and completed the course. Ten years on and we have yet to receive an accreditation for our work. I asked the centre manager about it every month for at least 3 years but nothing came of it. Though we had learnt new skills, ultimately we had sacrificed our time for an accreditation we never received. The services involved, however, had the portfolios they needed to tick boxes and receive their funding to continue working with young people.
The truth is that this was only one organisation claiming to care but this one organisation could have used this instance to change the future of a number of young people’s lives. That one GCSE could have made a huge difference to some of their chances. Maybe ‘Jermaine’ might have got onto the college course he wanted rather than taking up construction and dropping out a year later or maybe ‘Stacey’ would have got onto her ‘Health and Social Care’ course instead of having to work for minimum wage at a local hairdressers.
As services we do not always know the backgrounds of the young people we work with and nor do we know how much help or support they truly need but it is our duty to at least deliver the service we offer them. As staff they may not remember which organisation you work for or your job title but if you are genuine and provide them with the support you promised, they will remember you in years to come for making that difference in their life.
Be true, be genuine, be who you are supposed to be, not just to your funders but to your service users…the reason your service exists.
R.I.P David Noel…I am forever thankful X
There is a need to promote volunteering to young people. Despite the benefits they are often unwilling to volunteer because:
Capital Volunteers is a new project hosted by BTEG which is specifically working with BAME organisations to get the best of existing or new volunteers. We have a series of training sessions free to BAME organisations in London that will be starting shortly.
For more information contact Tebusssum Rashid Tebussum@bteg.co.uk
Follow Capital Volunteers on Twitter @CapitalVol
As the General Election approaches and we consider what the next five years hold for our country, the issues we care about, and the organisation and sector that we work in – the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector – we should challenge ourselves to have strong agenda for change.
My challenge for our sector is to be more progressive on equality and inclusion.
The public, private and voluntary sectors all have their strengths and weaknesses but when all are valued, society wins. All sectors strive to be efficient and effective and the VSC is certainly able to make a real difference, often with very few resources. Its strength comes from highly committed people, unpaid and paid, who see a social or environmental need and go all out to make the situation better for their fellow citizens.
As a member of the Queens’s Award for Voluntary Service National Award Committee, every year I see great examples of the real difference volunteers make in their communities for every section of society.
But the VSC is a wonderfully diverse sector and I want to see the large organisations in the sector move to the forefront of tackling social justice and racial inequalities. Our best known charities should be publishing information on equality and diversity on their websites - about their staff profiles and service users - and we should set our actions to address the main equality performance disparities where they exist.
The VCS should be beyond the public sector equality duty, we should be advocating for a levelling up of the legalisation, but all too often the sector actually lags behind the public sector on equalities.
How many of the top 100 charities boards reflect Britain’s ethnic diversity?
How many have senior BME leaders?
These valued charities must be seen to be tackling racial, and other key inequalities. Greater transparency is vital and leaders in the sector need to put the sector at the forefront of equality and diversity best practice.
On the 16 April BTEG had the pleasure of speaking at the Bristol BME Voice Strategic Leaders’ event.
The purpose of this ground breaking event was to bring together leaders within Bristol’s public sector to share their perceptions of Bristol in relation to race equality and to start to start the process of identifying actions that they can take individually and collectively.
The Bristol Manifesto sets out a vison for Bristol and a range of practical actions that the BME Voice Manifesto Advisory Group want to see implemented. Public sector leaders were very open about the challenges in Bristol and some felt the city remains ‘ethnically segregated’ and that challenges remain to increase the representation of BME people at senior levels in their organisations, as well as improve their service delivery.
In his short speech BTEG’s Director, Jeremy Crook, focused on leadership and race equality and the need for leaders to demonstrate, on a daily basis, their commitment to tackle racial inequalities as employers and service providers. This means working with their senior management team to mainstream race equality in everything that they do and to develop a culture in their organisations where leaders and managers are expected to perform on race equality. The Equality Act should serve to underpin the visible efforts made by public sector leaders.
Improving the culture within organisations is not easy. It requires leaders to put their heads above the parapet and demonstrate confidence in the subject. This in part comes from regular interaction with BME staff in their organisations and their service users. Tackling race equality may not always be ‘popular’ or welcomed by other senior leaders in their organisations Unless this happens and leaders start to work together, the situation will continue for a very long time. Individual leaders can make a difference but collective leadership in a city or town can be transformational. At a time of limited resources, public sector leaders need to pool their resources and share their expertise.
The event highlighted the past successes of positive action programmes in the city’s housing sector and how that led to progression for a number of the BME participants. However, it wasn’t sustained. If leaders today, across the public sector, work together they can develop leadership programmes that are sustainable for both BME middle mangers and young BME people.
BTEG commends Bristol BME Voice and the City’s leaders and will continue to encourage and support their efforts to make Bristol the number one city on race equality in the future