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Bola Abisogun FRICS, Chair of the Moving On Up Advisory Group takes young black men from Hackney on an inspirational journey to Atlanta

Mar 16, 2016

Growing up in Hackney, one of London’s most deprived boroughs, Bola Abisogun has always been aware of the key socio-economic issues that affect young black men in the UK. Being a father of three young men, he often asked himself - “how can I make a sustainable difference given that the imbalance in society is so profound?” This self-assigned mission was not only aimed at his family but also at his community, and it contributed greatly to his self-growth. Indeed, Bola’s aspiration was to grow an international business and in 2000, sixteen years ago, he embarked on a trip to Atlanta seeking to find the largest black owned construction companies in the US, which – at the time – confirmed that to be H.J. Russell. His conversation with the company’s founder, Mr. Herman Russell, inspired him to come back to London and make a contribution to the industry. He later founded UrbanIs, an organisation which has successfully established two US companies in the field of Economic Development and Construction Cost Management. Bola’s success led him to share his journey into business in local schools and empower young black men through BTEG’s Routes2Success project.

For Bola, it is and has always been important to ‘turn, look back and pass the baton’. The idea of taking a group of young black men from Hackney over to Atlanta arose from a series of conversation that Bola had with the young men that he has engaged with over the last 3 years. While sharing their individual stories, the cohort pointed out that there is a lack of opportunity for young black men in London, which stops them from making positive changes in their lives. Therefore, Bola sought to raise the aspiration in these young men by offering them a life-changing experience through which he hopes they will find their purpose and take their life plan to the next level. The trip will lasts six days during which the young men will visit the Federal Reserve Bank, attend the 2016 Construction CareerExpo at the Georgia Convention Center, have several meetings with ‘African American men from the Diaspora’, visit the Allen Entrepreneurial Institute, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change and visit many other places and meet local businessmen. Upon their return to London, each of the participants must identify five other young black men who could benefit from the same experience, all in pursuit of establishing a lasting legacy in the London Borough of Hackney.

What do young black men have to say about their high unemployment rate in the UK?

Mar 08, 2016

During an action research conducted by BTEG between 2013 and 2014, young black men were asked about their views and experiences of unemployment and job seeking. The participants, whose qualifications and employment status were similar to the profile of all young black men in London, provided moving personal accounts and important insights into the factors affecting their employment opportunities. In addition, they all shared understanding of each other’s experiences and viewpoints. Some of them described the high unemployment rates for young black men in the UK as the historical legacy of slavery. Even though these young men considered that this reason was not worth focusing on, they still felt that they are “trying hard” to make their way in a society where the odds are stacked against them. Unfortunately, they believe that employers simply reflect the rest of society’s negative stereotyping of young black men in terms of making recruitment decisions. On the other hand, the young men participating in the action research explained that the other factor affecting their employment opportunities is the quality of assistance from support services. Being active job seekers, they felt that most advisers from Jobcentre Plus or Work Programme were indifferent to their situations. Finally, they also believed that strong supportive networks are lacking in black communities compared with other ethnic minority communities. This factor disadvantages young black men when looking for work as they recognised that these are a valuable means of identifying opportunities and gaining work experience.

The following quotes obtained from the research reflect the range of views young black men expressed on unemployment and their experiences of looking for work.

   

 

   

 

For more information about the survey and BTEG’s action plan, click here

 

 

 

 

7 things I’ve learned about start-ups in London

Feb 17, 2016
 As Programme Director for Opening Doors Network (ODN), here are seven things I've learned about start-ups in London:
 
1. Women want to start their own business as much as, if not more than men. 
Of the participants on our ODN programme, 62% were women from a range of backgrounds and ages. Our greatest successes in terms of businesses created and trading were women from black British African-Caribbean backgrounds who were mothers, with over 50% of total business start-ups coming from this group. The need to work in a flexible way around childcare needs, whilst still providing an income for their families was the main driver for the women on ODN wanting to start their own business.
 
2. People from BAME backgrounds want to be self-employed. 
88% of participants on ODN were from an ethnic minority background with 80% of those identifying as black. This is double the proportion of the population in London who identify as coming from an ethnic minority background - currently around 40%. The boroughs that ODN delivered in - Brent, Croydon and Haringey - have a proportionately higher number of BAME residents however this figure was still high. 
 
Many participants on the programme had been employed at some point but felt that career progression was limited - possibly due to their ethnicity. Some also didn’t want to work hard for someone else, preferring instead to work hard to grow their own business. Some had family recipes for products that they wanted to develop and manufacture on a larger scale or wanted to develop hair and beauty products for themselves and friends/family.
 
3. Young people are less likely to start a business than someone over 30. 
Though ODN was aimed at those aged 18-30, 54% of participants were above 30. Young people initially engaged with the programme. However, with other issues going on in their lives they were not able to focus fully on getting their business idea off the ground. Many lacked the confidence and motivation to see their idea through to start-up. Also they were often dealing with issues relating to housing, finances and personal relationships. Those over 30 were more stable in these areas of their lives and able to concentrate on their business. 
 
The young people that were successful were mothers - again those wanting to work in a flexible way around childcare. In response to these needs, BTEG has developed Ready4Work - a programme that will enable young people to gain skills to navigate life and be successful in their chosen path – be that employment, business start up or further/higher education.
 
4. Having positive BAME role models inspires people to achieve. 
Some of the workshops on ODN were delivered by BAME entrepreneurs sharing their start-up journeys and experiences. They were able to talk about barriers they faced and how they overcame them from a perspective that ODN participants could relate to. Several of the participants from the earlier days of the project went on to become role models and deliver sessions to later groups. 
 
5. Networking and improving social capital can be invaluable to widen networks essential to business support - but only if you’re willing to take the time to learn how to do it and then do it! 
“Meeting people who can help with my business development” was identified as one of the main benefits of ODN in an initial questionnaire that participants completed. 
However, the reality of actually attending networking events in central London proved challenging for them. Reasons for not attending included childcare and work commitments. 
 
6. You don’t always need a business plan to start a business - but it helps! 
47% of participants on ODN either registered a business and/or were trading. 50% of participants produced a business plan. However, not everyone who started trading had a plan - particularly those who started with a produce or service and traded informally to test the idea without needing much financial backing to do so. Some of these participants moved onto trading without ever really producing a plan at the time. Many worked on getting the business up and running on a very small scale rather than producing a plan and seeking finance. 
 
Businesses who wanted to scale up, though, recognised the value of having a business plan to both seek finance and to articulate what they wanted to achieve.
 
7. Completing a business start-up training programme doesn’t just lead to becoming self employed. 
Over 20% of participants on ODN went onto full or part-time employment, college or university. Many participants were unemployed when they started on the programme and felt that it gave them the confidence they needed to start work or college. Many plan to continue to develop their start up idea whilst working or studying.

Prisoners: Could education be the route to early release?

Nov 19, 2015 - Comments: 0

Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, is considering an ‘earned release’ scheme for prisoners. What does this entail?

It means that prisoners who show commitment to taking part in educational activities and are able to gain qualifications will be considered for early release. However, there is the one additional and important clause. These prisoners need to demonstrate that they have changed attitudes and are ready to contribute positively to society. Is this the right incentive and will it work?

According to Juliet Lion from the Prison Reform Trust “nearly half of prisoners report having no qualifications and 42% of people in prison say they had been expelled or permanently excluded from school.” Is this not because they are disengaged from education?

From my experience, both as a teacher and a manager of a national role model programme that aims to inspire young black males to raise their aspirations in education and employment, I can honestly say that with the right material and practitioners you can get the most difficult young people to engage. If this new scheme is to be successful prisons need to ensure that the right staff are employed in their teaching roles and are able to motivate and inspire the young people

Many of the young prisoners, especially those from a black and ethnic minority (BAME) background, that have engaged in the Black Training and Enterprise Group’s (BTEG’s) Routes2Success role model programme have commented on the way that they have been inspired by the role models and motivated to continue on to further education or pursue entrepreneurship opportunities upon release.

“I study already, made me continue to aspire. The speakers at the event have helped me to stay motivated about education and continue with my degree. Made me realise that you can be successful though coming to jail. Thanks” Inmate at HMP Ranby.

A review will be carried out by Dame Sally Coates to look in to the educational provision that is in place in prisons. I hope that role model and mentoring programmes are taken in to account and recognised for the value that they add for keeping prisoners educationally motivated and on track to being rehabilitated. It is also important to recognise that not all prisoners are academic and, in the same way that Gove wants to raise the numeracy and literacy levels of prisoners, it is vital that those with a more practical ability are given a chance to gain qualifications in these areas.

What we don’t want is the same attitude that he took with the school curriculum by devaluing those subjects that the less academic students will flourish in. Like students at school there will be learners of all abilities and with preferred methods of learning. This needs to be considered when promoting this scheme of ‘earned release’ through qualifications.

It is clear that with the prison staff that we have worked with, role models can build a rapport with the prisoners and open them up to the possible opportunities that there are in prison that will add value to their rehabilitation process.

“Our young men were engaging and opened up their thoughts and feelings about what their future holds outside of prison. The speaker encouraged them to raise their hands, be confident, speak out and be pro-active. At the end of the afternoon I had a few young men asking me for details on any business courses our establishment runs!” Equalities staff at HMP Wayland.

It makes sense that prisons work with other organisations that can offer this type of support and encourage prisoners to take up opportunities that they might otherwise shy away from because they cannot see the benefits.

In the case of BAME prisoners it has become clear that they are able to more easily accept advice and support from BAME role models who have come from a background similar to themselves. 

Black Lives Matter: The 2015 Bernie Grant Memorial lecture

Nov 19, 2015 - Comments: 0

I will always remember Bernie Grant’s classic request to the House of Commons for the UK to pay reparations to African and Caribbean nations for the slave trade; a cause to which he was totally committed. It was a truly sombre moment, which has even more resonance now as we know that the UK paid huge reparations to slave owning Britons when slavery was outlawed.  The moment was only broken by the laughter when he said his mother’s maiden name was Blair and so there may be a family link between the then Prime Minister and himself!

One of many truly memorable moments, from what was a truly momentous life!

Fate couldn’t have played a more appropriate hand when, in September, the Bernie Grant Memorial Lecture was delivered by the Guardian journalist Gary Younge in the week when a Muslim was selected as the London Labour Party candidate for Mayor and one of Bernie Grant’s oldest political comrades, Jeremy Corbyn, was elected leader of the Party.

Somewhere, I thought, Bernie is kicking back with that big infectious smile and a twinkle in his eye.

There was a full house on 10th September at the vibrant community Arts Centre in Tottenham - named after Bernie Grant - to hear Gary Younge’s reflections on the campaign in America – Black Lives Matter - formed from the popular resistance to the disproportionate slaying of young black men at the hands of the police.

Younge’s critique began with the USA’s founding myths and the ongoing paradox of a country many see as the standard bearer for modern nationhood. Young depicted a great country built on freedom and democracy that has no time to mention or reflect on the reality of those denied access to these founding ideals through genocide and slavery. Even with a black president, this great nation appears impotent in its response when the contradictions to this image of fairness and integrity rear their unwelcomed head.

For Young, Black Lives Matter resonates because the reality of modern America is that black lives too often don’t matter! The Justice Department’s own investigation into the Ferguson Police Department unearthed a culture of systemic civic administrative abuse and that revenue generation is stressed heavily within the police department and judicial system – for example, fines for minor traffic offenses. These cause disproportionate hardship upon Ferguson’s most poor and vulnerable residents.

What I took from the lecture was that racism still plays a profoundly powerful role in modern America but in less visible and more furtive forms than in the era of civil rights. These can be seen, for example, in the growing structural economic and political inequality and the fragmentation of the African American community through class and status. Even with a black President, real reform seems remote.    

What’s the answer? Well Younge didn’t profess to have one and, as someone who had lived in another country for twelve years, he didn’t to respond to questions on what the UK and the black community here should do.

But perhaps the make-up of his panel for the Q and A pointed us in the right direction. They were all under 30 - a new generation. Engaging them in dialogue has to be the key.

A brilliant night and you can read Gary’s lecture on the website of the Bernie Grant archive and find out about the Bernie Grant Arts Centre here

Do we still need black history month?

Nov 10, 2015 - Comments: 0

In 1926, when ‘negro education week’ was founded, there was a clear need for African-American recognition.

Founder Carter G. Woodson lobbied schools across America to participate in Negro education week in order to recognise the contributions of African Americans as legitimate parts of history. He also hoped that one day, the triumphs of black men and women would no longer need a spotlight and would be held in the same regard as that of their white counterparts.

Considering this was his final aim, do you think we still need Black History Month?

We can all name at least one great black man or woman who did something commendable in history, for instance, Nelson Mandela or Harriet Tubman.

But what about all the other heroes and geniuses who have been left out of history, such as those hundreds of ex-service men, pilots and soldiers of WW2 who have been written out of history by a Eurocentric perspective?  Now, I am not suggesting that the name of every single black man, woman and child who was around during the war should be screamed from the mountain tops, but I do think it is important that there is a general understanding that people other than white Brits fought and died for Great Britain.

Black History Month is still relevant because:

  • it removes the myth that the history of black people begins and ends at slavery
  • it exposes young people to the achievements of black men and women in history
  • it encourages young black boys and girls to be more than what society suggests they should be

We have come a long way from the racial struggles of 1926. However, with people from ethnic minority groups still disproportionately represented in prisons and under-represented in the employment market celebrating Black History Month is an excellent way to inspire change within the black community and increase the attainment of young black men and women in the UK. 

If you want a job, then …get volunteering

Nov 04, 2015 - Comments: 0

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Many young people coming out of school, college and/or university are lacking the attitude, mind-set and behaviours employers are looking for. 
 
Youth unemployment is one of the greatest challenges facing the country. Nearly 1½ million young people are currently not in education, employment or training. That’s over one in five of all young people. Of these, 20% are BAME 16 to 24-year-olds who have been out of work for more than 12 months, according to an analysis of official figures by the House of Commons Library and the Office for National Statistics. 
 
For young people, long-term unemployment can have long-term implications. It can mean lower earnings, more unemployment and more ill health in later life. 
 
So how can young people help themselves?
 
Young people want to get a job that matches their career aspirations and they want to be recognised for their talents but they lack the experience in their chosen fields so that they are ready for a potential employer. Even though there are a range of programmes available to help young people get the experience, the exposure and the skills they need, why do so many young people (particularly of a BAME background) not take advantage of these opportunities?
 
For example, BTEG has been strongly advocating volunteering for young people as a way of getting relevant experience through its Capital Volunteers programme. The programme helps young people to be ‘employable’ though personal development sessions but, possibly more importantly, through volunteering placements that enable access and opportunity towards career goals and aspirations. 
 
However, young people don’t seem to get the connection.
 
In recent weeks, I have spoken to many young people about volunteering generally and, in particular, the Capital Volunteers programme. I explained the benefits of volunteering in relation to getting career related jobs. Although the initial responses and body language are positive unfortunately the end result has been discouraging.
 
There is an attitude of ‘it takes effort’, and comments such as ‘I need to be paid’ and ‘it sounds good – I’ll email you’. This mind-set is very disheartening and frustrating, especially as we know they have a skills deficit, lack of confidence and lack of basic work environment knowledge.
Those that have been on the programme - and I’m sure on other similar projects such as Vinspired or the Prince’s Trust - have benefited enormously and can see the valuable connection between volunteering and securing a job. 
 
There are many opportunities for young people to get support to enhance their experience and skills, including BTEG’s Capital Volunteers Programme. Young people need to take advantage of this support to be more competitive in the job market.
 
Read more about the Capital Volunteers Programme

Young people lack the get up and go attitude

Oct 26, 2015 - Comments: 0

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At BTEG we have often considered why there is such high youth unemployment, especially amongst BAME young people. We discuss the lack of opportunities directly related to qualifications and aspirations but actually see a major reason for youth unemployment as being lack of ‘oomph’ in young people.

Whether it’s through placements, at job interviews or even attending events, we too often see a laid back approach to life. Only yesterday, a friend told me about her 18 year old son who is academically bright but has openly asked her to ‘get a job for me’.

He is not alone in not wanting to make the effort and expecting jobs, money, houses and cars to fall into their laps.

I am sure I’m not alone with been frustrated in the lack of take-up by young people of projects designed to help them to be more employable and get noticed.

What are your experiences of trying to recruit young people?

Involving volunteers, not using them

Aug 26, 2015 - Comments: 0
We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.
                                                               Winston Churchill
 
 
Volunteers are all about giving; their time, their skills, their effort. Volunteers can make an enormous impact by helping to expand the capacity on their host organisation:
  • By helping deliver important services
  • By bringing skills to the organisation that it doesn’t already have
  • By enabling the organisation to explore new ideas it wouldn’t have the time to do otherwise
  • By giving dedicated attention to specific areas of work
But it shouldn’t be a one-way street; organisations shouldn’t just see volunteers as “free help” and should see themselves as “involving”  the volunteer rather than “using” them. 
They should be clear about the value that the volunteer brings to the organisation and about how the organisation can give back to the volunteer. To do this they need to have a clear understanding of how their organisation recruits, retains and manages volunteers by:
  • Strategically taking on volunteers rather than using them ad hoc
  • Having policies that support both the volunteer and the organisation
  • Having a clear definition of the role you want to fill and the qualities that the volunteer would need to bring to it
  • By providing the right support and management of the volunteer when they have joined the organisation.
To enable small to medium (up to 25 paid staff) BAME organisations to do all this BTEG – with the support of the City Bridge Trust – has a series of four free courses that cover all aspects of getting the most from your volunteers.
 
To find out more about the courses and how to apply click here

Is Britain Fairer?

Jul 20, 2015 - Comments: 0
 
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a London consultation conference organised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The central theme of the event was ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ Later this year the EHRC  will publish an important report containing lots of statistical evidence covering those groups listed under the Equality Act 2010, with the nine protected characteristics including ethnicity, religion and belief, gender and disability. It will also address human rights in the UK.
 
As I sat in the audience, listening with interest, I started thinking about the position of young people today and especially one group of young people – young black men. I asked myself, “Would they think Britain is fairer?”  
 
What has changed for this group of young people over the past five years? 
 
I thought about all the statistical data that I am aware of and continually share with the media but rarely receives any coverage. I thought about how difficult it was to find employers in London willing to talk about their experiences of recruiting young black men.  It was great that BBC Panorama and Sol Campbell made a programme about young black men and unemployment a few years ago but, despite their being nearly 2 million viewers, no employer contacted the charities featured (BTEG and Making the Leap) in the programme.  
 
I tend to see the journey for some young black males in the following way:
 
  • Higher rate of exclusions at school (0.36% of Black Caribbean boys were permanently excluded from school in 2012/13. This is double the rate for White British boys, of which 0.18% were permanently excluded in the same year)
  • Higher rates of stop and search (four times more likely to be stopped and searched)
  • Higher numbers in youth custody (43% of under 18s are BME and mainly black)
  • Higher rate of unemployment (the unemployment rate for young black males was 36% in 2014. This is more than double the rate for young white males, 15% in 2014)
  • Higher rate of drop out from university (11% of  black students  were no longer in university one year after entry compared with 7% of white students, in 2010/11)
  • Higher numbers dealing with mental health. African Caribbean people are three to five times more likely than any other group to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia.
In 2014 BTEG conducted an on-line survey of young black men and ran four focus groups in job centres. We heard from nearly 200 young men aged 16-24 with a good mix of educational qualifications from GCSE’s to degrees. Nearly all of them listed racism, discrimination and negative stereotyping as the three main barriers to employment.
 
In some ways I believe if we can make Britain fairer for this group, it will be a lot fairer for all young people. The EHRC and policy makers need to recognise the thread of systematic racism and disadvantage that impact on young black men. Not many groups of people have to deal with the discrimination that they do and the powerful negative stereotypes that are reinforced by the media on a daily basis. 
 
These negative stereotypes do have an impact on teachers and employers. Expectations for young black men must be higher and communities, the state and employers need to start talking and taking action to normalise the terrible figures above. 
 
There is a strong case for the EHRC making young black males a priority group over the next five years. 
 
Jeremy Crook OBE, Director of BTEG.

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