UK Politics

Bright spark of an idea on unemployment

Students on the Wired for Success scheme undergoing training
Image caption The 12 women range in age from their 20s to their 50s

With unemployment on the rise, it is clear creative solutions are needed to tackle the problem. One scheme, which is giving 12 women living in social housing the chance to become electricians, is doing its small bit to help.

"Before this I thought I'd be unemployed until I retired. I'd sent off numerous CVs, but I didn't even get a reply," says Julie Dickman.

"I got really disheartened and lost my confidence, but now I feel there's a light at the end of the tunnel."

Fifty-one-year-old Julie, from Shooter's Hill, south London, is one of 12 women taking part in the Wired for Success scheme.

Over the next two years, they will receive training, both in the classroom and on the job, and hopefully emerge as qualified domestic electricians.

The scheme is the brainchild of Diane Johnson - the first female president of the Electrical Contractors' Association.

"Women are being made redundant all the time, especially from their traditional roles in things like administration," she told the BBC News website.

'Die on benefits'

"When they go to the Job Centre they either get offered office jobs, which thousands of other people are going for, or cleaning. There's nothing wrong with those jobs, but when men go to the Job Centre they have far more options.

"So we came up with this and we had an overwhelming response. I had women sat in front of me saying: 'This has really given me hope, I thought I was going to die on benefits.'

Image caption Students get a mixture of classroom and on-the-job training during the two-year course

"They say: 'I can be master of my own destiny.' Or: 'It'll mean I can show my sons that it pays to go to work.'"

All the women are tenants of L&Q housing association - a business with an explicit social mission which ploughs back any profits it makes into that mission.

David Montague, from the organisation, said the women would be able to help maintain their own homes and those of their neighbours.

"The skills gap in the electrical industry has long been a concern to us. We have 67,000 homes in London and the south-east and they need to be well-maintained," he said.

"We're giving opportunities to our residents to develop a skill, support their communities and ultimately reduce the benefit bill.

"It's good for them, good for us and good for the government."

Flexible

Music to a minister's ears then - the sort of initiative they would like to see repeated many times over, across the country.

The women range widely in age, from their 20s to their 50s. Several have young children, so the flexibility offered by the course - and the career at the end of it - is crucial.

One of those is Nicole Briscoe, a single parent in her 40s from Herne Hill, south London, who has a daughter aged six.

She also has another daughter, Kellie-Marie, aged 26, who is taking part in Wired for Success with her.

Nicole has a degree in software engineering, but has struggled to find work she could fit around her children.

"When the leaflet about this fell through the door, I picked up the phone straight away," she said. "When I saw it was for women only I just knew it would be flexible enough.

"At the moment I'm looking at what doors can open. I want to work for myself, so hopefully I'll set up my own business. I might do it overseas, somewhere in Africa, where they really need the skills and need the job done properly."

Kellie-Marie has worked in HR, but had been looking for a job for several months when her mother got her involved in the scheme.

"I'm a very practical person, I do my own DIY and car maintenance, but I'd never done anything with electrics before," she said.

"It's really exciting. I've always enjoyed numbers and it's triggered a spark in a part of my brain I hadn't use for a while.

"I'm really privileged to have this opportunity. The other 11 women, including my Mum, are fantastic - it's really fun to work with them.

Image caption Some of the women were unemployed for several years before signing up for the programme

"We egg each other on and encourage each other to strive."

Diane Johnson is hopeful her scheme could be a blueprint for others to copy and she wants to work with the government to how that can be done.

Funding is, of course, crucial. In this case, the tab has been picked up by L&Q and three private electrical firms - Axis, Mulalley and Smith & Byford - who are providing work placements.

Ms Johnson believes government money earmarked to boost employment should be focused on these sorts of initiatives, rather than on further education courses that she says get people a certificate but do not necessarily provide the hands-on experience required by employers.

"I know the economic climate is horrendous and there are a lot of male unemployed right now never mind women, but we have got to look to the future," she said.

"We've got to get people working."

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