Young unemployed people from Southampton have seen their prospects start to improve thanks to a UKSA Back to Work programme and funding from the Department of Work and Pensions.

The participants took part in the six-week part-residential course Aweigh Ahead, after their JobCentre work coaches recommended the programme. The highly successful course combines on-water experiences with work experience in the local community. Importantly, participants find the healthy routine and positive environment of UKSA raises their aspirations, motivates them and gives them qualifications to enable them to seek work. They are all offered one-to-one mentoring and support, and careers guidance as part of the programme.

The participants told their stories at a presentation to JobCentre work coaches and staff from the DWP. UKSA’s Rob Cook was their instructor for the course and he was impressed with their progress. He said: “When I met these guys they struggled to look me in the face and now they’re standing up telling people their stories. It’s been an amazing journey for them.”

Charmaine Virgin, work coach for 18-24 year olds in Southampton, said: “I can see a difference in these young people, they’re so enthusiastic now! One asked me about job applications and he has never asked that before, and another has got a job goal for the first time.”

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James Hatchett, 22, of Millbrook, attended a special needs school and although he volunteers he has struggled to find paid work since leaving school. He loved the course, particularly the powerboating as he had never done anything like that before. He said: “Aweigh Ahead got me out of the house and I have made new friends, and I was given help to apply for jobs. It has really helped with my confidence and I’m now filling in job applications online.”

James Alderton is from Netley Abbey. He’s 19 and thought the course sounded really interesting when his work coach told him about it. He said: “I especially like the chance to gain more employability skills and of course the water activities sounded enticing. At school I never found my niche. I did a public services course at college for a year but when I moved to Southampton with my family I struggled to get a job and I didn’t know that many people around here. Aweigh Ahead was fantastic. I learnt loads about interests I had never looked into before, it was a lot of fun and I have made new friends. The first week of residential was fantastic. I got into a good routine and did watersports and new activities. It’s helped me improve my determination and given me more focus and direction and I know now I want to go into the Merchant Navy. My mother is really happy I have found something at last.”

Clarence Plummer had been unemployed for a year at just 18 but a UKSA leaflet on his JobCentre work coach’s desk sparked his interest in doing the Aweigh Ahead course. He said: “I decided straightaway I wanted to do it as my general plan is to be a chef in the Navy. The course was totally different time-frames for me and I had to get into a new routine – it helped me use my day a lot more wisely than before. It was also great fun, if I could I would do it all again. It’s helped me improve my confidence and my communication and if you told me I would be doing a presentation six weeks ago I would have said goodbye and been out of that door and back off to Southampton! But actually I wasn’t nervous and in the end I was quite eager to do it. I have now applied for a job and I have a goal in mind for my future.”

Stewart McKay, 22 said: “It’s been great, it gave me an insight into the maritime industry and I’d not known about it before. I liked the chance to get all my qualifications and it has given me a lot of motivation. Now I’d like to get into deckhand navigation.”

The next course for Southampton starts in the New Year.