Asked to sum up his belief in the vital role work can play in diverting a young person away from a life of crime, Graham Bell (pictured) says: “Nothing stops a jail sentence like a job.”
The award-winning social entrepreneur and chief executive of the Kibble Education and Care Centre in Scotland elaborates: “If young people who haven’t had the best start in life don’t go out into the world able to play a positive role in society, they could end up on a downward spiral of crime.”
For many years Bell has preached the important part business can play in helping to support young people into work. This was recognised recently with two awards from the Institute of Directors. But he says more employers need to grasp the nettle and put their money where their mouth is.
He says: “Provision of work experience placements and apprenticeships is critical. Employers could also support transitional employment schemes and social enterprises by offering interviews and placements. A shared responsibility between the young person, an employer and transitional support provider will work best for everyone.”
Alongside Kibble’s 18-place secure unit, 60-place residential unit and facilities for 40 day pupils in Paisley there is an off-campus training scheme called KibbleWorks where 16 businesses provide work experience for 22 young people.
This “apprenticeship” arm, built on the social enterprise model and covering warehousing, car mechanics, gardening, catering and joinery among other trades, has staff both experienced in the professions but also qualified in youth work to provide extra help in teaching necessary social skills. Bell says: “We’ll do our bit by bridging the gap between school and making young people work-ready and employable but businesses have to play their part and be willing to give these youngsters an opportunity.”
Bell says that in many ways his young people are more prepared than some other school leavers. “We prepare boys for the world of work – not only giving them skills but teaching them the value of simple things like turning up on time, taking instruction and behaviour in the workplace.
“Although the works are run as businesses that have to deliver quality products and services, staff are trained in child care and youth work as we wanted people who could blend their trade knowledge with an extra understanding. Sometimes the young people are not quite ready for work – perhaps they have educational difficulties or lack the kind of social skills necessary in the workplace – and the staff are able to address that.”
Bell found the nearer they got to the job model, the more successful the schemes as young people had to produce quality work and to interact with customers as in any other workplace. They work alongside skilled workmen, such as chefs, tilers, gardeners and picture framers to learn how to do the job as in a traditional apprenticeship. They will occasionally work off-site in customers’ homes or deal with customers who come to purchase a service and start on a training allowance, but can move to full-time employment or to another employer. A range of goods and services is sold to individuals and businesses in the local community, staff at Kibble, social enterprises and charities.
Bell feels the KibbleWorks “employment opportunity model” is crucial in stopping the downward spiral that young people leaving care can fall into, slipping through gaps in the system and often left high and dry at 16, not able to function outside care.
“The situation of young people leaving care is pretty well documented across the UK,” he says. “There is a periodic wringing of hands about it. We thought there wasn’t much practical help for those who wanted to go into employment. Many of them have been in the system for years before they come to us and there’s a small group that tends to slide down and end up angry and with poor educational achievement. In effect we are a last resort placement.”
But he adds: “This is an international phenomenon, not exclusive to Scotland or the UK. How do you stop these young people drifting into crime? The government is doing its bit by putting in huge resources but we don’t yet know how effective some of it is.
“What we do know is there’s a group at the extreme end who have similar characteristics – years of deprivation, unstable family life, failed placements, significant early trauma. Some people feel that by the time they are 15 or 16 it’s too late but while I appreciate early intervention I have seen youngsters who have had umpteen rejections through early intervention and we need to understand it doesn’t work for some.”
KibbleWorks has a 75% success rate at moving young people on to further employment or college after completion of a training and work placement. Not a bad return considering it works with some of the most troubled young people.
“While we recognise the importance of early intervention, we need to try and turn things around at whatever age they are,” he says.
This article appeared in the 8 May issue under the headline “‘Nothing stops a jail sentence like a job'”