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Last Updated: Monday, 8 March, 2004, 15:31 GMT
Unmotivated, unskilled and unemployable?
Career boot camp
In a country nearing full employment, what can be done for people who nobody wants to employ? A group of 12 young British men deemed unmotivated, unskilled and unemployable were introduced to one novel solution.

"If you haven't got the social skills to impress an employer, or the ability to work as part of a team, you're not going to survive in the world of work," says Lyle Grandison of Respect for Life Educational Services.

It seems an obvious point to make, but the remedy proposed by Grandison and his cohorts is far from ordinary.

Their solution for the long-term unemployed is no government training scheme, voluntary IT lesson or skills workshop, but a "career boot camp" where inmates are put through their paces over a gruelling three weeks.

The "bad habits" of the British dozen are to be replaced, whether they like it or not, by 5am runs, career seminars and even classroom exercises to broaden their vocabulary.

The whole programme is designed with the sole aim of getting them ready for the world of work.

'Social experiment'

Over the past decade, Boston-based Respect for Life has worked in the US with more than 10,000 unemployed people, ex-offenders and those on drug-rehabilitation programmes.

I have basically spent the last two years being homeless and in and out of hostels
Damion K, career boot camp recruit

Their decision to come to the UK is a "social experiment", but as they start work, the three trainers - including an ex-US marine - are in no mood to go easy on their charges.

"We aim to shake them out of their complacency. From the very beginning they get a shock to the system," says Grandison, known as "Brother Lyle" to all involved in the project.

The trainers are deliberately tough, using shouted orders to whip the participants into shape. But there are also words of encouragement, when the regime gets too much.

Unemployment black spots

The British boot camp was held at an isolated country house in the Cotswolds last year, with the results filmed for a BBC Two documentary, the transmission of which had to be delayed after one of the recruits got in trouble with the law.

All of the volunteers involved were aged between 17 and 27. Some had been unemployed for five years; others had never held a job.

Recruits, such as Damion (left) are from unemployment blackspots

They came from some of the country's worst unemployment blackspots, in parts of towns and cities including London, Dundee, Birmingham, Slough and Basingstoke.

Among them was 18-year-old Damion K from Portsmouth. He said: "I got kicked out of home two years ago, so I got heavily involved in drugs and crime and my mum just couldn't cope and she threw me out.

"I have basically spent the last two years being homeless and in and out of hostels."

While the stories of Damion's fellow participants vary, none seemed to have much chance of their prospects improving before they arrived at camp.

Respect for Life believe these are typical of hundreds of thousands of young people across the country.

It's a belief shared by Prince Charles - even if his methods are less startling.

Announcing plans to aid disadvantaged young Britons by arranging apprenticeships and giving business start-up advice, the Prince's Trust said last week there were 649,000 16 to 24-year-olds not in jobs or education.

Surprise tasks

At the career boot camp the dozen volunteers were told that drugs and alcohol were strictly off limits. Their Walkmans, watches, cigarettes, mobile phones and money are all confiscated.

It's all about making them question what they've been doing with their lives
Lyle Grandison, Respect for Life

Respect for Life was in no mood to let its first British volunteers fail and was determined that life was going to be tough.

The boot camp regime tested the recruits' physical and mental endurance on a daily basis. In addition to the dawn runs, they were put through drill exercises and physical discipline.

Each day saw gruelling surprise tasks, ranging from orienteering to building a dry-stone wall.

All of this was supplemented by a constant routine of classroom activities where the dozen were drilled on everything from writing a decent CV to making good eye-contact and shaking hands.

Dead of night

Progress was slow, though. Asked what his good points are during a mock interview, one recruit said: "I haven't really got any."

Part of the gruelling training
Others looked bored and rolled their eyes as one of their trainers tried to motivate them by telling them: "I've been gunned down, I have experienced jail, I have been a menace to society, so when I see you I see me."

Out of the 12 who started, only seven completed the course. One even escapes from a window in the dead of night.

But for those who stayed, there was an undeniable sense of progress and, eventually, the first chance of regular work many of them had ever known.

By the end of the filming of the documentary, six of the seven graduates had successful job interviews - and were either offered work straight away or second interviews at local branches of the employers who saw them. The seventh enrolled himself on a college course.

One of the trainers, Brother Al, says: "It was great to see them expressing themselves and taking care of real business instead of standing around waiting for mommy to do everything for them."

Respect for Life admit their techniques are unusual but, they say, there is a definite aim and the results are clear to see.

"It's all about making them question what they've been doing with their lives," Lyle Grandison says.

"By the time we've finished with them, we guarantee that they're fit for work. Either that or they won't finish the course."

Career Boot Camp, a three-part series, will be broadcast in the UK on BBC Two starting on Monday, 8 March, at 2320 GMT.


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