Dean Stephens never thought he'd end up in prison. But that's where he has spent the past six months - mentoring young people alongside Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) staff through an employment programme organised by SkillsActive's National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure.
Unemployed for 10 months, the former builder was looking for a way to break into his dream career in the sports and fitness industry.
"I was always interested in working in sport but it never worked out for me," he says.
He learned about SkillsActive's Future Jobs Fund opportunity with CACT through the Job Centre and applied.
The Future Jobs Fund, which has now closed, is a government programme that provided £1bn to help create 150,000 jobs for 18 - 24 year old people that had been out of work for nearly a year. Dean, 28, was accepted into the programme because of his length of unemployment. He says he was nervous on hearing he would be mentoring and taking football workshops with youths at HMYOI Cookham Wood, "but it's actually very rewarding work".
"I work with a programme coordinator to shift the boys' focus from crime to football and help them see all the other possibilities available to them in life," he says. "The boys are at a very impressionable age and, if even a handful of them listen to us, we've achieved something."
Dean has proved such an asset to CACT, he's been offered a full time position. Finally, he feels he's on the right career path: "In 10 years time I hope I'll be coaching football and teaching nutrition. This opportunity has been a godsend and I plan to make the most of it."
FJF 'a smart business move'
Employment and skills manager Elly Virgo says the seven Future Jobs Fund employees are helping the charity to deliver its award-winning football coaching programmes to disadvantaged communities in Bexley, Greenwich and Kent.
"We always have plenty of demand for our programmes so we need the staff to deliver them," Elly says. "The Future Jobs Fund programme was a smart business move for us because the funding allowed us to create these positions earlier than we would have without. It also meant we could give somebody who might not have come to our attention through the normal recruitment process, like Dean, a chance to prove themselves worthy of a job."
Working around learning disabilities
CACT were looking for outgoing, capable, confident employees. Learning disabilities were not a barrier.
"We actually took on three people with mild to complex learning needs," Elly says. "NSA put us in touch with Remploy who supported the young people with additional training. We found ways to take advantage of their strengths and work around their difficulties. The most important thing is they had a good personality because that's something you can't teach."
Five of the Future Jobs Fund employees work as coaches, delivering CACTs programmes in schools, estates and prisons.
"They facilitate and referee matches and provide a point of contact for people on our estates programme," Elly says. "They also coach people from the age of three, right up to working on our older person's project for the over-65's."
Two work behind the scenes in administration, providing customer service and technical support for the programmes.
Tailoring training programmes
All CACT Future Jobs Fund employees are trained in health and safety and first aid, and CACT tailors the rest of the training programme to suit the individual. Administration staff are trained in software packages and business administration. Most of the trainee coaches gain level 1 training. CACT offered to pay for level 2 training for Dean, who achieved his level 1 training prior to joining the programme.
Elly says while most of the employees had been outstanding, some initially required extra support: "One guy was just out of practice at getting up on time for work, so we started with basic employability skills for him."
Elly says most of the Future Jobs Fund employees will be offered permanent employment at CACT at the end of their six month contract. CACT will provide interview training skills to the others to help them get work elsewhere. Dean is one of those definitely staying on.
"I couldn't believe he was unemployed when he came to us," Elly says. "He's an absolutely outstanding coach and we were lucky to find him through the Future Jobs Fund."