Businesses at the heart of a Yorkshire community are putting their hands in their pockets to support a ground-breaking initiative that helps school-leavers get their first step on the career ladder.
A hairdresser, electrician and model agency boss are among those who have banded together to tackle the alarming rise in youth unemployment.
They have joined forces with The Model Education to equip pupils at Benton Park School, Rawdon, with a range of new skills and hands-on practical help designed to improve their performance at job interviews and boost their employment prospects.
The venture – a first involving local businesses – comes as employers claim school leavers were better prepared for work in 1851 than they are in 2014.
The Model Education is the brainchild of Matt Bates, a former Benton Park School pupil who has worked all over the world as a fashion model for 20 years.
He will take lessons from the catwalk and place them in a job interview setting as part of a series of five after-school clubs held this week, with pupils sponsored to attend by local businesses in the community.
Using his experience modelling for the likes of Next, Barbour and Royal Caribbean Cruises, pupils will learn what to wear; the importance of first impressions; body language; confidence and self-esteem; and be put through their paces in a mock interview.
“This isn’t the X-Factor. I always stress that the next time they will be doing this will be for real.
“We know that a large percentage of leavers will work within a few miles of their school.
“This is a tremendous example oftoday’s employers supporting their employees of tomorrow, nurturing the pool of ‘home grown’ talent that exists on their doorstep in a novel way.”
The school’s senior leadership team associate Mark Ross said:
“Benton Park is at the heart of the local community and this new partnership will offer our students an opportunity to learn a serious message about how to embark successfully on a career in a fun way.
“We are grateful to the local businesses who are supporting the students to have this opportunity – when letters went out to parents asking if they wanted their child included, the response was fantastic.”
Matt now hopes that other businesses will show a similar community spirit and follow the example set by the Rawdon companies and sponsor pupils to take part in a session in their own local area.
Parents and former pupils are also being encouraged to invest in the development the future workforce in this way, as mounting public sector cutbacks make it increasingly difficult for schools to provide this opportunity on their own.
Any surplus will be channelled into developing a programme of work experience opportunities – another victim of budget pressures.
Former Benton Park pupil Paul Shakeshaft, of Yazz Hair, said:
“We work with the school in various ways already but this is a rewarding and innovative initiative we are pleased to support as a potential future employer, as we already have several members of the team who also attended the school.”
Another former pupil, Phil Park, of MAP Renovations, said:
“There is no shortage of talent at the school and these sessions will add an extra dimension in translating it from the classroom into the real world, equipping students with the skills to set themselves apart at job interviews.”
The initiative has also triggered interest from businesses outside of the Rawdon community.
Vicky Cockroft, owner of Leeds city centre-based Face Models, said:
“I have known Matt for 15 years and know how dedicated he is to helping school leavers prepare for a new life in employment.
“This is a project by the community for the community and I am proud to be contributing to its success by sponsoring pupils to take part.”