Boot camp for jobseekers

Foundation leader June Forsythe mentors Chantelle Robinson, who is training with The Bayford Foundation
Foundation leader June Forsythe mentors Chantelle Robinson, who is training with The Bayford Foundation
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A Leeds-based firm has come up with a bootcamp-style training scheme to give people the chance of a new career. Chris Bond reports.

THE weather might be wet and miserable and there’s still no sign of Spring on the horizon, but it seems we are at least starting to see some green shoots emerging.

The Government has been making a lot of noise in recent weeks about the economy which, after spending what feels like an eternity in the doldrums, finally appears to be heading in the right direction.

Last month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), revealed that the number of unemployed people in the UK had fallen by 167,000 over the previous three months – something we’ve not seen in 17 years. The unemployment rate now stands at around 7.1 per cent, the lowest since the beginning of 2009.

But while this is very welcome news, these kind of statistics don’t matter a jot if you’re one of the 2.32 million people out of work. For this unfortunate group of people, life is undeniably tough.

A report published in December by Manpower showed that despite the encouraging economic forecasts Britain was still reliant on part-time workers. This followed a study last summer which said that up to a million could be working under zero-hours contracts, where employers hire staff with no guarantee of work.

So trying to get people into jobs they might find rewarding and that actually have some long term future remains a big issue. It’s one the Bayford Foundation is trying in its own small way to tackle from its offices in Hunslet, on the outskirts of Leeds.

A nondescript business park perhaps isn’t the kind of place where you’d expect to find life-changing opportunities, but the people who run the bootcamp training programmes here believe that’s what it can offer.

The Foundation, set up by BE Fuel Cards, puts recruits of all ages and all kinds of backgrounds through an “earn as you learn” programme in telesales.

The first “bootcamp” was launched last August since when the company has taken on 10 new starters.

June Forsyth, the foundation’s leader, says it’s about giving people the chance to change their lives for the better. “The aim of the foundation is to bring people in who wouldn’t normally come into our working environment, either because they think this job is something they’d never be considered for, or because they don’t have the experience.”

The foundation uses everything from local recruitment agencies, to probation services and The Prince’s Trust to encourage people to attend an open day, which brings in as many as 60 people.

Auditions and interviews are then held and those who impress given the chance to do a six-week training course. At the end of this the lucky ones are offered full-time jobs with an annual starting salary of £16,000.

This is less than the average national wage, which is around £26,500, but if you’re unemployed then it’s not a bad start, especially when you can earn up to £500 a month extra in bonuses.

As well as the usual product training and basic business skills, like how to write professional emails, they’re also taught the importance of self-development and stress management, which can involve anything from yoga to boxing.

This sounds all well and good but how does it differ from other firms’ training courses?

“We’re recruiting people who may never have worked before, or don’t have any qualifications.

“So while in the past we would have looked at people’s CVs and thought they sounded good on paper and got them in for an interview, now the CV is important but it’s not the be-all and end-all,” explains June.

Some people might argue this is just a clever PR exercise but those who join the training course get paid for their time and it costs the Foundation around £5,000 to put each person through the programme.

“It’s not a gimmick,” says June, “we’re putting our money where our mouth is. Our aim is not just to train people in sales and say ‘there you are, go and get yourself a job,’ which is what a lot of training courses do. What we’re actually saying is ‘if you’re successful in this training you will be guaranteed a job with a £16,000 salary – and that’s the biggest difference between ourselves and everybody else.”

But not everyone who does the training course will be offered a job. “There are people who feel this isn’t for them but they will have usually found out something about themselves. They might have become more confident using computers, or they might say ‘this really isn’t the job for me, I need to go back to gardening,’ as one chap said to us. But it’s about having that spark to want to change your life.”

June admits there are risks to what they’re doing but feels the benefits outweigh them. “It means we have tremendous loyalty from the people we take on and it’s actually growing our business. We’re taking on everyday people who perhaps haven’t got the qualifications but what they do have is the personality and common sense.”

Most importantly, she says, there’s a willingness to learn. “They might have fallen out of the school system and this is like a second chance and that’s what a lot of them are seeing it as.”

They’ve helped everyone from recent school leavers to people in their mid-50s looking for a new career. “We had someone who’d been made redundant and set up their own business which didn’t work ou,t and he said, ‘I didn’t think I’d get another chance’ – and he has.”

Telesales jobs perhaps aren’t the most glamorous in the world (though I’ve done them in the past) and they often get a bad press through their association with annoying cold calls, but June feels they play an important role in our economy. “It’s an unfair message because customer service work is a big industry in the UK and it should be welcomed with open arms,” she says.

“We’ve got some real high-flyers who’ve come from some unusual backgrounds, we’ve got people who have been unemployed and people who’ve been lecturers.”

Brittany Taylor from Rothwell, near Leeds, left school with no qualifications and was out of work for 18 months before she earned a place on the training programme.

She did well and has been working for the company since November.

Before that the 23 year-old applied for all kinds of jobs without any luck. “I went for anything and everything, shop work or cleaning jobs. It was really hard, it’s degrading to think that you can’t get a job.”

Now, though, she’s eager to impress and reward the faith that’s been placed in her. “It’s an amazing opportunity and I’ve learned a lot already,” she says.

“It’s given me a new goal, I’ve knocked down some barriers. I don’t remember the person I used to be and I’m a lot more confident now. It feels like my life starts here.”

June says that Brittany is a great example of the impact the programme can have. “She came to our audition day and stood up and talked about herself but when it came to the interview itself she just fell down in so many places.

“Normally, I would have thought she perhaps didn’t have the confidence to be a salesperson. But during the interview she said ‘this is where I always let myself down’ so I invited her back to spend half a day with us and meet the sales team – and she really impressed everyone.”

Chantelle Robinson is one of those on the training course at the moment and hopes to follow in Brittany’s footsteps. The mother-of-two, who lives in Hunslet, has been in and out of work for the past 10 years since having her children.

She admits it’s been difficult at times. “I worked in a chippy, I did cleaning jobs and worked behind a bar but I’ve never done anything like this. It’s been hard work but I think I’m doing ok,” she says.

“On the first day I was a nervous wreck because this is someone who doesn’t even like phoning up for a take away. So I doubted myself a lot and I still do but I’m getting more confident.”

For people like Chantelle it’s a chance to have a career they didn’t think they would get.

“I’m 30 years old, I don’t have any qualifications, the only thing I know how is being a mum, 
so for me it’s not make or break but I want to make my family proud.”

June believes this goes to show the importance of what they’re doing and the impact it can have. “What we’re trying to do is have a completely unblinkered look at everybody and see people for who they are and not what the piece of paper says about them.”

• To find out more information about the bootcamp training programmes go to www.bayfordfoundation.co.uk