Emotions ran high as 12 young people were offered jobs by Govia Thameslink Railway after successfully completing a four-week work experience scheme run in partnership with The Prince’s Trust.
There were tears and hugs as GTR’s Human Resources Director Andy Bindon told the group and their families that he would be offering them all jobs during their graduation ceremony on Monday (June 10).
New recruit, Onyx McFarlane, 18, of Hackney, said: “I’m so happy to be offered a job. It’s one of the best things that’s happened to me. My family will be thrilled.”
Fellow recruit, Tajsia Baptiste-Simon, 20, of Chingford, added: “I feel ecstatic – it’s amazing. I thought it was a joke and then everyone started clapping. It’s been very emotional.”
For many of the group, life has been full of challenges and finding suitable work had been a struggle. After completing the four-week ‘Get into Railways’ programme, they all gathered for a graduation ceremony at The Prince’s Trust’s hub in London, where each young person spoke about the personal challenges they had faced, including bereavement, injury, illness and living in temporary accommodation.
The programme is tailored for young people aged 18-25, who have struggled to get into employment; it gives them vital lessons and the skills needed to help them find work on the railway. The first two weeks are spent in a classroom focusing on presentation skills, crisis management, first aid, security protocols, and customer service. The second half takes place out on GTR’s network, working with staff to gain practical work experience in roles such as customer service and working on the ticket gates.
Many of the young people had never been given such an opportunity and they spoke warmly of the welcome and support from The Prince’s Trust and GTR staff.
Markus Balogun, 23, who is originally from Croydon and lives in Peterborough, had just finished university when he heard about the Get into Railways programme. He said: “The enthusiasm really made me want to get involved and see what the programme was all about. I enjoyed it as soon as I got here. Initially I thought the opportunities were just for people who worked at stations and platforms, but I found out there were opportunities in other areas, including IT. I was quite nervous, but my mentors made me feel so welcome. Joining GTR is an opportunity you can’t waste.”
Blessing Lama, 22, of Chigwell, had been working at a supermarket for two years before joining the programme and completing a placement at London Blackfriars. Blessing said: “I really wanted to work for GTR. I made an effort to be on time, making sure I was always the first one to arrive. The team at Blackfriars welcomed me with open arms. They made me feel like I fitted in. I became more confident around people.” For Blessing, having a job means being able to support family; “I’m determined to give it my all for my family. It means a lot.”
Shemar Morris, 21, of Peckham, had been in and out of jobs for the past three years “trying to find his calling” before he took part in the programme. He had been doing charity work and fundraising for an anti-knife crime charity. He said: “I was looking for something to help me move forward and I came in for the taster day and then the placement. It has boosted my confidence a lot and gave me the skills to help others. I loved being in the stations and working on the gatelines. I’ve just enjoyed working with the GTR team. It feels like a second family.”
Jordan Ogunyemi, 23, of Thamesmead, said: “Getting a job offer is perfect. It’s a huge opportunity.” Prior to the programme, Jordan had been doing agency work which saw him working in a supermarket. He jumped at the chance to take part and his placement was in dispatch. He said: “I have met so many people who I will cherish for years to come. I’m usually a quiet person, but I just got involved from day one. Everyone was making me laugh. I have definitely changed as an individual. I’m way more confident. I can speak to people I have just met.”
Aristote Botamba, 23, who is from Tottenham and Edmonton, said: “Life was all about playing football and then everything got taken away from me. I really wanted to be a footballer, but I had an injury. It was a hard time for me.” Aris, as he is known to friends, tried to find work and found himself doing agency work before approaching The Prince’s Trust. He said: “Where I’m from, there isn’t this sort of opportunity. Being here for four weeks was a big change for me when you consider where I was to where I am now. It’s changed me a lot as a person. I feel like someone. It has been such a good opportunity. You have to give it all you have got.”
Merlina St Omer, 20, of Neasden, had been working in a supermarket before she joined the programme. She said: “I came to the taster day and met everyone and we became one big family. I came out of my shell and I was able to talk in front of people. Everyone was really supportive. Getting a job means I can provide for my family, support my mum, make her proud and make myself proud. It’s been such a great opportunity. You just have to give it your all, listen and just be yourself.”
Raheem Ahmed, 19, of Upton Park, had left college and was working in a supermarket before facing turbulent times and thinking “life couldn’t get any worse.” Raheem said: “It got to a point where I thought I have to do something with my life. The four weeks changed my life. The taster day got me interested in the company and then the first day made me want to do the second day and the second day made me want to do the whole course! It’s built up my confidence. My best experience has been helping customers and being in the classroom helped me know what to do and how to help. Every day was a highlight.”
Tajsia Baptiste-Simon, 20, of Chingford, suffered a bereavement last year which also resulted in her family losing their home and moving into temporary accommodation. During this difficult time, Tajsia’s focus was on supporting her family emotionally. She then found out about the programme. Tajsia said: “Janet from The Prince’s Trust was so supportive on the phone and it made me want to come on the taster day. I told her my story. I tried the taster day and I really enjoyed it. The highlight for me was the placement and helping people. Getting a job means I can help my mum and dad get a house so we can have a home again and not be in temporary accommodation.”
Bailey Reeve, 19, of Walthamstow, finished college last year and got a job in retail before ending up in hospital and being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He was in hospital for a week and had to take two weeks off work. He said: “My first job experience didn’t last long and from mid-December to mid-April I was looking for jobs and being turned down. Eventually I was recommended this course with The Prince’s Trust. I was invited to the taster day and didn’t really know what to expect. It was nice being in the familiar environment of the classroom with people around me. I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything in the previous six months, but being on the programme made me feel like I was doing something that I could be proud of again.” Getting a job with GTR means Bailey can help support his mum who has Crohn’s disease.
Hameed Lawal, 23, of Hackney, had initially hoped to play football professionally but “got knocked back.” He also tried university, but found it wasn’t for him and so started looking for work. During a football tournament he found out about The Prince’s Trust and came along for the taster day and took part in the programme. Hameed said: “People around me gave me positive vibes. It definitely helped me in terms of self-confidence. I enjoyed helping people at Victoria station. A woman came up to me and I didn’t know she was blind at first. I took her to the machine and helped her buy a ticket. It felt good helping people.”
Onyx McFarlane, 18, of Hackney, had gained a good set of GCSE results and had been attending college, but a change in financial circumstances meant he felt he “had a role to play in supporting his family”. He then made contact with The Prince’s Trust and went along to the taster day. “I knew I was lucky to hear about it. Over the four weeks I realised how lucky I was to get on to the course. There’s a difference between a job and a career and this is a career.”
Malakie Sealey, 21, of Clapham Common, had gained A-levels in economics, English literature and media studies before embarking on the programme. He said: “The course was very informative. I have learnt a lot about customers and expectations. I was being of service to everyone and the team at Victoria made me feel very welcome. It’s been a big learning experience and I have gained a lot of insight. I have learned mindset is key and with a positive attitude anything can be achieved.”
Operations Executive Janet Craven manages the programme at The Prince’s Trust. She said: “No-one should underestimate how powerful this programme is. It’s not just about the young people having a phenomenal time, look at the support GTR staff give them. The message is to live, learn and earn.”
Paula Hillard, who is GTR’s Engagement Manager and co-ordinator of the scheme for the company, commented: “The partnership we have with The Prince’s Trust is phenomenal. I think GTR fits in really well with the young people and gives them structure and a chance to meet some really great people. I don’t think you can get that anywhere else. Our employees are helping the next generation be a massive success. We want to thank everyone who is involved in the programme.”
Director of Partnerships for Corporate and Government at The Prince’s Trust, Ben Marson, told the young people at the ceremony: “I have been really blown away by your attitude and the clarity in the way you spoke. The support you have given each other is obvious. You have taken an opportunity and stuck at it. Huge respect and well done to you all. GTR is representing the dream of what we’re trying to achieve. Don’t underestimate the small things that can make a difference to a young person. It’s an incredible gift GTR has given these young people.”
GTR HR Director Andy Bindon said: “One of the highlights for me in the last five years has been working with this partnership with The Prince’s Trust. GTR is a great company because of the people we bring into the organisation and programmes like these are important so we can bring the right people in.”
Patrick Verwer, GTR Chief Executive Officer, said: “We support this programme to help people like Tajsia buy a family home – that’s what it’s all about.”
The 12 individuals will start their new roles across the GTR network in the coming weeks with nine based at stations, one in IT and two joining as on-board supervisors.