Opinion

I was on benefits and struggling to support my family. Here's how I turned my life around

Byron O’Connor, Generation UK alumni and tech consultant at OpenCredo, explains how a skills bootcamp completely changed his life

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Illustrations: Ben The Illustrator

Today I can proudly say that I’m an ambitious tech consultant. But this was not always the case.

Four years ago, my life was completely different. It was early 2019, I was unemployed, supporting my mum and sister, and trying my best to make ends meet.  

But I was struggling. Physically, mentally, and professionally. Despite my several attempts to apply for tech roles via apprenticeship programmes, without a degree or A-levels, I was unable to get through the early-stage job process. Without proper guidance and support, I was unsure of the skills I needed and didn’t know how to prepare for interviews. 

But my story is not unusual.

Across the UK, there are currently 526,000 unemployed young people aged between 16 to 24. This is an increase of 154,000, compared to the previous year, according to the latest figures from government on youth unemployment.

But the bad news doesn’t end there. According to the Institute for Employment Study, compared to the previous year, the fact that there are now more than one million, or nearly one in six, young people in the UK who are either unemployed or not in full-time education – shows signs that the rising short-term unemployment is now translating into longer-term unemployment.  

And the reality is that most of the young people facing the brunt of this are likely to be from those more disadvantaged backgrounds – as we tend to encounter an abundance of obstacles when seeking employment.

Firstly, there is the problem of being ‘disadvantaged’.  By this, I mean people that may be disadvantaged because of a range of factors, including but not limited to gender, ethnic background, a disability, or growing up in a low socio-economic area, which ultimately makes it more difficult for them to access good education or a job.

Just recall the recent Institute for Fiscal Studies, which found that it now harder for those born young people into low-socio economic households to move up the social mobility ladder compared to 50 years ago.

The problem with these figures is that ‘disadvantaged’ people are more likely to face barriers to getting into work. In fact, it’s been shown that people from middle or higher socioeconomic backgrounds were 47% more likely to have received help from family or friends in securing their first job compared to those less privileged. 

Yet, those from less privileged upbringings are faced with persistent barriers, including accessibility to good education, lack of work experience and networking opportunities. Inevitably, blocks them from accessing potential job roles.

This results in a vicious cycle of lack of social mobility for those who are looking to have a better and brighter future.

Then there is the skill shortage conundrum. The skills gap is one of the most visible hurdles the job industry is facing. Many traditional educational institutions are not adequately addressing the skills and technological capabilities required by today’s employers and economy.

There are also more than one million job vacancies in the UK, often for careers in key growth sectors across tech, health and climate. Yet, there are also more than one million unemployed people in the UK. 

So, when you add lack of social mobility opportunities for young people from disadvantaged background, coupled with a persisting skill shortage crisis, no wonder it becomes significantly harder for young people like me to find a good job. 

But then I found out about Generation – an employment charity that offers a unique model of bootcamp training with extensive wrap-around support to help people facing barriers to work to get into jobs. 

By nature, skills bootcamps are designed to address the multiple barriers people face to get into work, including but not just limited to skills training.

A critical element of these programmes is that they offer free training for the learner. Often, this training is skills-specific, meaning that they are based on an industry need and must direct learners to potential employers after training is complete.  

Skills bootcamps were a game changer

After joining one of Generation’s tech bootcamp, in just 12 weeks, I had gone from a struggling unemployed young adult to an employed tech consultant. 

The profound change I saw in myself in those 12 weeks alone made me realise the impact skills bootcamps can have on young people. 

Firstly, beyond the much-needed structured setting to learn in-demand technical skills to find a good job, Generation bootcamp also instilled in me a newfound confidence and belief in my ability. 

Prior to the bootcamp, I saw problems and setbacks as impossible challenges. The bootcamp setting taught me to see every obstacle as an opportunity to evolve, learn, adapt and grow.

The programme also emphasised the significance of good communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence – critical soft skills that are essential to thrive in today’s job market.

Finally, one of the most overlooked advantages of the bootcamp was the opportunity to strengthen my interviewing abilities. Through mock interviews and ongoing feedback, I learned how to answer questions while successfully demonstrating my capabilities. It gave me the confidence to display what I can do, rather than just what I know.

The opportunity for others

With rising unemployment and opportunities for social mobility for young people from low-socioeconomic households at its worst across the country, I see the huge need to talk about the potential skill bootcamps can have in reversing this trend.

Four years ago, I was stuck, struggling to find an open door for me to start a career. But through skill bootcamps, I was able to regain my voice and confidence.

Today, I cannot understate the power skills bootcamps had in reigniting my self-belief and helping me change my future. 

So here is what I have to say to all the young people out there struggling to find a job: if a school, apprenticeships, or other training qualifications are not for you – there are always skills bootcamps. If it helped me, they could help you too. 

For more information about Skills Bootcamps and where to find them, click here. Or find out more about Generation’s programmes, click here.

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