A local housing association convinces young people from ethnic minorities to try a career on site

During government investment in Bradford to rebuild its fabric after the 2001 riots, the construction companies carrying out this work had to import skills from outside the city – even though Bradford has one of the highest unemployment rates.

The city’s unemployment sits at 17% against just 5% nationally, and unemployment among people from ethnic-minority groups is 3.5 times that of the general population. Because the city lacked construction, management and administration skills, the investment benefit was not retained in the local community.

Local housing association Accent decided to take action. It worked with the council, training bodies, the local college, employers and funders to set up a project that would provide construction skills for people in local communities to meet local demands.

The housing association has a range of schemes to bring people into construction from groups underrepresented in the industry, such as women and young people from ethnic minorities. YouthBuild recruits young Asian people, who make up a significant part of the Bradford population but a relatively small proportion of the construction industry locally.

Accent worked with schools, colleges and careers departments to publicise the scheme. It also found out what employers wanted and why some employed so few people from ethnic minorities.

The strength of the project comes from its mentors, who are recruited from the local communities targeted and look after trainees from recruitment, through their training and into their first year in a job.

The role of the mentors varies. At inception their role is to get into the community to talk to people about the scheme. They liaise with colleges to see if there are any students that may be suitable for the scheme and they speak to the families of the potential trainees to help build a support structure for the trainee.

Mentors understand local needs and issues have a real passion and enthusiasm for their own community, as well as the contacts and respect from families and community leaders. They understand barriers. For instance, many families may aspire to an "office" job for their children and dismiss the idea of construction. Yet their child's skills may be far more suited to a practical career, so the first work was to explain how working on site can be an occupation the family is proud of. Equally there was a lot of peer pressure to get involved in crime and make money quickly so a lot of work went into selling the long-term benefits of learning a trade rather than the quick and easy options offered by crime.

Trainees are recruited is directly from the community rather than through traditional advertisements in jobcentres or newspapers. Often this is through a mentor walking round town and talking to groups of young people just "hanging out".

Once the scheme is under way, the mentors act as a contact point between the colleges, employers, trainers and trainees; they will be looking for any potential problems so these can be tackled before they become major barriers. For instance, if a trainee's attendance or punctuality starts slipping they will speak to the trainee. Often the problems are not work related, but the mentor will still support them throughout. The mentors will also work with the employers to make sure the trainees are ready for work when the course completes.

The trainees do a mixture of things. They develop the basic skills for their chosen trade - for example bricklaying at the training centre - alongside completing their qualifications at college. The mentors also work with them to develop life skills, like numeracy, literacy, punctuality and coping with problems so they are ready to take on the challenge of working as members of a team. But the focus is on filling specific gaps in skills for the local market rather than providing general skills.

Accent has hit or exceeded all of its targets. Over 1,000 trainees have gone through the YouthBuild project, with 83% achieving qualifications. The 1,330 trainees have obtained 480 vocational qualifications, and 290 got jobs, 20 went into self-employment, and 201 went on to further education and training where they got 798 other qualifications.

Funding sources include the Learning and Skills Council, and one scheme to get women into construction is funded by the Accent Residents’ Panel.

Funders who have evaluated the scheme have commented that it has brought ethnic diversity to an “almost wholly white” Yorkshire construction industry and that its job placement (work experience or training posts) rate of 50% compares with 35% for the New Deal for Young People in Bradford.

YouthBuild trainee Dawood Hussain says: "They got me off the streets into employment and I am at college. Since I have started YouthBuild I have turned over a new leaf. I’m not getting into any bother whatsoever and am always trying to stay away from trouble.

"Once I have my qualifications as a joiner I am hoping to open my own business with the help of YouthBuild. When I hopefully have my business I will also take on lads like myself who have not been treated right, have fallen through the school system but still want to achieve something in life, lads who want to stand on their own two feet."

The scheme has grown across Bradford and into other locations such as west Lancashire, Middlesbrough and now into London.