Nineteen-year-old John Gotterson of Jedburgh is a trained painter and decorator, and a former Student of the Year at Borders College in Galashiels – just waiting for a local employer to give him a chance, writes Sandy Neil.
John is able to turn his hand to anything, proven by the odd jobs he’s picked up since qualifying, from tattie howking, packing fish, labouring and even embroidery – this lad’s done it all.
“Anything – I’ll give it a go, whatever it is,” he said. “All I want to do now is get work.”
His mother Sandra envisioned a page in TheSouthern “helping get young people into work by advertising who they are, what they’ve done, what they want to do and hopefully to get employers to notice them”.
She explained what inspired her idea: “I saw this as the last chance to try to help John find a job, because it’s been impossible – really, really impossible. The only thing I could think of was TheSouthern.
“It’s been desperate. There’s no hope for the future for them. I mean, how can they ever get a girl, a house, a family, settle down – they’ve not got the money.”
Compounding a “hopeless” future, there’s also the mental toll on job seekers.
“To watch them get rejection after rejection, it gets them down, and there’s nothing as a parent you can do to help them. It’s just a really desperate situation, not just for John, but for all the other ones in the same boat,” said Sandra. “If he’s working and got something to do, he’s happy, he’s full of fun, full of laughter. But if he’s not working, he’s a totally different person. Nothing to get up for, he’s not got the fun, he’s not got the laughter, and he doesn’t go out.”
Describing his wasted days, John said: “It’s a nightmare. I just wake up, walk the dog and doss about the house. It starts to drag after a while, and there’s no sign of it improving either. I can’t be doing with it.”
The teenager’s mum added: “Somebody has to give them a chance, somewhere along the line. So hopefully some employers will take note.”
John has been looking for work, temporary or permanent, since the beginning of this year. Although, as he said, “any job will do”, his dream is to become an apprentice painter and decorator, but opportunities are thin on the ground.
“I can do it all, but just don’t get the chance to show anyone,” he said.
“There was no work in the building trade when I came out of college, so there was not much chance for an apprenticeship then. It’s not picked up much to get an apprenticeship either. I’m not bothered about the money, just the qualifications, so if a job stops I’ve got the experience for another one. But I just want to do anything.”
John is obviously keen to work, picking up any odd job he can for a few weeks to buy his motorbike, but like many other young unemployed he faces familiar ‘catch 22s’. For example, a job advert asks for experience, but how can young candidates acquire experience until they get a job?
“Nobody’s going to give you the opportunity if you’ve not got the experience. The majority of employers are looking for ‘experience preferred’, or a full driver’s licence, which I don’t have – I’ve just got the bike on the road. So I can’t really apply for them.”
“It’s another catch 22,” Sandra said. “He can’t afford to do his driving test until he gets a job. And until he gets a job, he’s not got the licence. But he has got transport on his bike. If he got a job he’d certainly go for his car licence, and it would open up more opportunities, but at the moment it’s a no-win situation.
“They don’t really get the chance to do interviews because when they send in their CVs they’ve either got no experience or they’ve had so many weeks of different jobs that employers think: ‘Well, they’ve no experience at working, they don’t want to work, or they’ve had half a dozen jobs and none of them’s lasted, so they must be useless. We’ll not give him a try’. Since young people don’t get many interviews, they can’t learn to sell themselves. So that’s another catch 22 – they’re often getting rejected before the interview stage.”
All it takes is for someone to give these young people a break, and Sandra poses another radical solution.
“Maybe employers need to rethink. Instead of looking at CVs and doing interviews, if they took the names and ages of four, five or six applicants, and gave all a week’s trial, taking a week to know them and seeing what they’re like working, then they can decide who takes the job.
“Employers would see the person, and not just a name and writing on a piece of paper.
“All the young folk need is for employers to look at them in a new light and realise they have got a lot to offer. They’ve maybe not got a lot of life experience, but they’ve still got a lot to offer.”
Sandra added: “Employers should open their eyes, look at the situation and think: ‘Everybody was young, everybody had to look for a job once, including the employers now’.
“Somebody took a chance on them. It’s maybe time for employers to take a chance on the young.”