“Without Connect with Work, I wouldn’t have a job”
The level of youth unemployment is at its highest since 2016, government figures show. We talk to one young graduate, Aiden from Manchester, about moving from unemployment to a job with the Co-op – thanks to Barclays’ Connect with Work employment programme, which is committed to placing 250,000 people into work by the end of 2022.
Aiden, from Wythenshawe in Manchester, is one of thousands of UK university students who faced stiff competition for jobs after graduating.
Now in employment with the Co-op thanks to a Barclays employability scheme, the sports journalism graduate says that despite previous retail experience, he found roles hugely oversubscribed, leading to frequent knock-backs.
“I struggled massively,” he says. “The pandemic had a huge knock-on effect on anyone looking for any kind of work. Instead of 100 people going for the job that I was applying for, there were 500 people. Regardless of the previous experience I had, every time I applied for a job it would be the same response: ‘Well done but you weren’t successful’.”
A little help from a friend
After completing his degree at the University of Central Lancashire, Aiden found himself claiming Universal Credit – a UK government support scheme that helps people who are on a low income, unemployed or unable to work, with their living costs.
South Manchester has been hit hard by COVID-19, and there’s been a massive knock-on effect on employment opportunities.
Connect with Work trainee
He then found out from a friend about ‘Retail Futures’, an initiative supported by Barclays’ Connect with Work programme, which trains and connects people facing barriers to work with recruiting businesses. ‘Retail Futures’, run in partnership with the Co-op and The Prince’s Trust charity, aims to help young people find a permanent job in Co-op food stores. The programme included an innovative new structure during the pandemic of both virtual and in-person training to support young people into employment, in line with government guidelines.
“I thought ‘great, I’ll go for it’,” says Aiden. After joining an initial virtual Taster Day for would-be candidates, he was contacted and offered a place on the programme. The programme itself included virtual training sessions covering an insight into how retail works and key employability skills – followed by a five-day placement in a local Co-op store to help him to get into work.
The Connect with Work programme – which is committed to placing 250,000 people into work by the end of 2022 – has undergone its own pandemic transformation, with much of the training moving online. Debbie Goldfarb, Global Head of Citizenship at Barclays, says it has been vital that the programme keeps going, despite coronavirus restrictions.
“Giving young people access to work is more important than ever,” she explains. “We are delighted to have been able to continue offering high-quality training, placements and support throughout this difficult period.”
Aiden describes the online provision from Connect with Work as “really good”. As well as training from the Co-op, where he was to be placed, on everything from the origin of Fairtrade bananas to the Local Community Fund, he received high-quality training from Barclays colleagues and The Prince’s Trust on communication and interview skills. “It was a mix of people leading the course to keep it fresh,” he says. “A few people on the course were more introverted and they became more confident as the sessions built up.”
Although Aiden had worked in retail before, he says the online training sessions were a great chance to improve his retail skills before
Without the teamwork from Barclays, the Co-op and The Prince’s Trust, a lot of people probably wouldn’t be in a job.
Connect with Work trainee
“I’d not been in retail for a good year and a half, and I didn’t know if anything had changed from when I last worked in this sector,” he says. “It was a good boost, it gives you the confidence to go into the role as best you can and then you just get on with it.”
Aiden’s placement allowed him to experience different roles within the team. “I was stocking shelves, I was doing the delivery orders which is quite cool and I was working in the back with in-store deliveries. It was just great to get in there, work with the team, and get the job done,” he says.
After his placement, Aiden was offered a job at another Co-op food store nearby, where he is now working as a Customer Team Member.
“It is worth the graft”
Although Aiden is still interested in sports journalism, he’s now planning to progress to a management role in the Co-op. “I’m looking at building myself more, becoming a team leader and taking on a bit more responsibility,” he says.
Without Connect with Work, Aiden says, his life could be very different. “If I didn’t get on the programme, I probably wouldn’t have a job. I could still be sat applying for roles, twiddling my thumbs and hoping that something does come up and I get the chance to get an interview. South Manchester has been hit hard by COVID-19, and there’s been a massive knock-on effect on employment opportunities.”
He continues: “Without the teamwork from Barclays, the Co-op and The Prince’s Trust, a lot of people probably wouldn’t be in a job. If there’s certain companies that, in the pandemic more than anything, are willing to work together and create these opportunities for young people, more young people are going to want to be a part of it.”
Aiden’s advice to others looking for work is to keep trying and use the schemes available.
“You might not get the first opportunity. Don’t let it knock you back, keep going and eventually something will come – it is worth the graft. The Connect with Work programme is great for learning skills and builds you for future opportunities.”