Aspire Oxford, a local Oxfordshire charity that helps the long-term unemployed to find work, is taking on its first apprentice in its ten year history.
Their new apprentice is Danny, 23, who has been offered a full time, paid position on a six month apprenticeship. This includes training opportunities such as subsidised driving lessons.
Danny is enthusiastic about his apprenticeship: “I’d been rejected so many times, I wasn’t qualified enough or I didn’t have the right experience […] So I thought I’d try this, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.” His confidence has increased, and he is developing skills that will equip him to continue employment.
After Danny finished school, he completed a one year animal care qualification. He then moved into full time work, until he had a disagreement with his manager which landed him jobless. He found work elsewhere, but was soon made redundant. After three difficult years on Job Seekers’ Allowance, Danny is back in work with Aspire.
When recruiting its employees, Aspire looks beyond the traditional prerequisites for employment. Last year, 70 percent of their employees had an offending history. 60 percent had experienced or been vulnerable to experiencing homelessness. Many do not even have addresses, email accounts or identification. As Paul Roberts, Aspire’s Business Development Manager, explains: “we want to spin these reasons on their heads and say that’s really not a reason not to employ someone”. They take on staff and trainees in the hope of building their self-esteem and self-confidence and setting them back on the road to full time employment.
People out of work face complex barriers to rejoining the workforce – from lacking qualifications and licenses to not having a phone or bank account, all necessary prerequisites in today’s increasingly competitive and regulated labour market.
It is these challenges that Aspire attempts to combat.
On the face of it, Aspire is a professional services business, offering services from grounds maintenance to painting and decorating at competitive prices. They claim to have never had a complaint, and never had a disappointed customer. But beneath the businesslike professionalism, they are having an astounding social impact.
In Britain, 7.7 percent of the population is unemployed, with the rate skyrocketing for those aged 16-24, at over 21 percent. Here and all over the world, people of all ages are struggling to find meaningful full time work.
Aspire, whilst helping people like Danny, still competes against private companies in the market. They compete on price, quality and are always professional. It currently receives 60 percent of its income from the Government, charity bodies and social enterprise. The organisation cites its next step as becoming a fully self-sustaining enterprise.
Aspire tries to keep its trainees on in full time positions where they are available.
As Mr Roberts says: “there is no better role model than someone who has been there, survived it and come out the other side […] it’s really powerful”. He insists that the emphasis of the charity is to help its employees do something productive and value-adding. This may mean working hard, as Aspire trainees have to earn success -“it’s about helping people help themselves”.
He is adamant that all people deserve a second chance. By bringing people out of unemployment and into the workforce, the charity benefits the economy, the taxpayer and, on a personal level, the individuals it assists. After all, Mr Roberts reminds us: “it could happen to anybody”.