We can all learn about how young people can thrive in employment

04 December 2018

Tommy McDade from Barnardo's Scotland talks about a programme that is supporting young people into the world of work for the first time.


“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends."

Mary McLeod Bethune, American civil rights activist

In anything we do at Barnardo’s, we always respect the unique worth of each young person we work with and we do so by encouraging them to fulfil their potential, and to take their first step into the world of work.

We strongly believe that young people are not defined by their past, and their voice clearly tells us that they are very much looking to the future, and that they want the tools and capabilities to help them to get there.

Discovering Your Potential

Since April 2017, Barnardo’s has been working in partnership with Action for Children and The Prince’s Trust to support more young people into employment, education, or training through the Scottish Government funded Discovering Your Potential programme.

Through our relationship-based approach, the partners have supported over 300 young people in the first year of the programme.

Jane* was one of the young people we supported and her journey into work highlights the value placed on having a ‘Key Worker/Trusted Professional’ there to support, encourage and challenge each young person to achieve their goals.

Jane first came to our Barnardo’s Works service in May 2017, aged 16. She was in residential care and had been in care for periods of time for a long time.

Through one-to-one key worker support, focusing very much on helping her to identify her strengths and areas where we can help improve her capability for work, we started to develop a realistic working relationship.

Initially her attendance was sporadic and she was unsure what her employment options were, but by enabling her to have the space and time to progress at her own pace, we ensured she was able to determine what she felt was needed and when.

A few months later, Jane agreed to participate on a Land-Based Skills programme, which we delivered in partnership with the Forestry Commission Scotland.

Initially she really enjoyed the programme and achieved qualifications in Manual Handling and First Aid as well as achieving a Grow to Eat award from the Royal Horticultural Society.

However, at times she found it difficult and as time went on her attendance and timekeeping began to decline. This resulted in her completely disengaging from our service. So we redoubled our efforts to re-engage with Jane and kept in touch with her.

After a short while, she once again began to work more regularly with her Barnardo’s Key Worker. She applied and was interviewed for a place on the local authority funded traineeship programme. This is a supported employment programme offering a mix of forestry, hard landscaping and horticultural type work as well as the chance to gain some industry recognised qualifications.

Starting in April this year, she immediately began to make an excellent impression. Her attitude towards her traineeship and her attendance and timekeeping were impeccable and she got stuck in to every task.

She was part of a group that made a pallet garden for the Gardening Scotland Show and won a silver gilt award and passed her strimmer/brushcutter test with the highest pass mark in her group.

When she was placed with a local golf club working with the greenkeepers, she was taken under the wing of the Head Greenkeeper having immediately impressed him with her willingness to learn and enthusiasm. She has been involved in maintaining the greens and working with machinery. She has done so well that she was offered and took employment at the golf club, where she continues to thrive today.

What we learned

Looking back at Jane’s experience, we have also learned a lot. We have learned about ensuring we tailor our support for each young person. We know that we need to:

  • Protect against any low expectations of what each young person can achieve. Our approach through Discovering Your Potential challenged those perceptions and the stigma that unfortunately often accompanies many children and young people, particularly those from more vulnerable backgrounds.
  • Language is crucial: we need to avoid any stereotypical responses and assumptions, as these often seek to unfairly define who that young person is. It doesn’t! Each young person has their own ambitions, expectations, and we must ensure they determine how we can help with achieving them.
  • Our partnerships with employers are crucial to ensuring the transition into work. The ongoing development of the young person in the workplace is a key focus of this. Combining the support the employer will provide to the young person, for example, a workplace mentor, helps with this as does a clear understanding of the support Barnardo’s will continue to provide to the young person and the employer.
  • Things go wrong in the world of work, when it does, we support the employer, and we support the young person, to overcome any issues arising and enabling them to continue to thrive together.
  • The sustainability of support, aligned with allowing the voice of the young people to shape the nature of support we deliver, is crucial to how we develop their capability to reach their goals. We need to ensure that any limiting factors, such as social contexts or lack of family or informal networks, do not restrict what each young person can achieve.

Jane is one of many young people that we have successfully supported through Discovering Your Potential. 

We are pleased to be able to continue this vital work in partnership with Action for Children and The Prince’s Trust, supported by funding from Scottish Government to continue with this vital work.

*Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

Tommy McDade is Assistant Director for Employment, Training and Skills for Barnardo’s Scotland.



The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

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