In this blog, Vinnie Amoako from charity Bettering Education reflects on how soft skills can enable young people to access good quality work. As our infographic illustrates, it is through building foundations such as good quality work and feelings of empowerment that people are able to access opportunities to live healthy lives.
I’ve always been very business orientated, and when I finished university I wanted to do something unique. I noticed the difficulty young people had in getting jobs, and after researching it, found my interest was in making a difference to young people. I thought, why can’t I be a social entrepreneur? Why can’t I earn a living by doing something good?
The more successful your education, the more opportunities you have. So in 2014, I helped to setup Bettering Education, a national charity for young people, which tries to tackle youth poverty with education. We try to fill in the gaps in the formal system by providing training on soft skills.
You can go through the education system and still fail, and if you don’t have a job you’re in poverty. Young people are five times more likely to be unemployed, and 30% of young people live in poverty. I realised the lack of soft skills (like communication and the ability to connect with others) is a problem for some young people, and this has a lifelong effect.
I come from an urban background, and there’s a lot of stigma and stereotypes attached to this. One of these is our way of articulating ourselves: our language. The fact is, an individual might speak a different way due to the culture and background they come from, and currently our society penalises you for this. There’s a common language we need to know, and that’s illustrated by our ability to communicate. This is essentially our people skills.
Bettering Education does research to make sure we’re helping in the right areas, and raises awareness about the soft skills young people need. Then we do workshops where young people learn confidence and soft skills like awareness and reflection, so they can think about what they need to do to move forward and make the right decisions.
About 15 young people attend each workshop, and thereafter we look to maintain a conversation and help support them. If young people don’t know where they’re going, mentally they’re not in the right place and are further at risk of poverty.
So, we put them through the workshop and they learn about themselves. Then they start to see themselves differently, and it leads to other positive things like volunteer work. At a bare minimum, it helps them create some clarity about where they’re going, which can be a first step to crossing over from that poverty line.
Some young people are low in confidence and very quiet, so if they go to a situation like a job interview they’re not able to be competitive. That leads to feeling they’re not good enough to apply for jobs. We try to help them develop the mindset and the confidence to deal with their issues.
One young person came from an area that’s not great in terms of schooling, the mother doesn’t work and the father’s been in and out of prison, unfortunately. This young person came to the workshop and afterwards we put them in a position of responsibility doing some volunteer work. Then they started to look at getting back to college because they’d dropped out. They’re now working and going to college. This is a good example of what we try to do, but it’s a long process.
Bettering Education enables young people to stabilise their lives and then put themselves in a position where they can learn how to live better. Better choices stem from education, and trying different things. When young people come from a background where things are more stable, they learn better life skills early on, and don’t have to think about it.
I think our education system is outdated. Some young people don’t have the soft skills they need, they’re not getting the opportunity to be active in society and get a job, and are only going to stay in poverty. We help them to focus on the little successes, then that helps them move onto bigger goals.
Colvin ‘Vinnie’ Amoako is a social entrepreneur and director of national charity Bettering Education, which he helped establish in 2014.