Jobless young people are being offered a chance to kickstart
careers in health and fitness and boost their self-worth. Sarah Hanson meets the duo behind the government-backed initiative that will create 1,000 jobs this year
Fred Turok The idea for TAG (Transforming a Generation) came from my wife. We have friends whose children were struggling to get jobs. She thought that with my background in the health and fitness industry I might be able to help. TAG is a holistic approach that combines the needs of the fitness industry, desperate health problems, including an obesity epidemic, and the growing problem of Neets (people not in employment, education or training).
Howard de Souza Fred and I have known each other for over 15 years. We first met when I was working at PR agency Bell Pottinger. He appointed us to promote LA Fitness. We had a good relationship. Then I left and we lost touch. A few years later I bumped into Fred's marketing director and we got back together. For the last eight or nine years we've worked together on different projects.
FT Howard is good at pulling things together. I'm more entrepreneurial in terms of thinking creatively around solutions and how one fixes them. It was a perfect combination.
HdS We focus on 18 to 24-year-olds in deprived communities who have been unemployed for some time. There is a "hidden curricular" surrounding work, knowing how to prepare for an interview, what is acceptable work behaviour and what is not. Nobody teaches these kids that curricular. Many parents in these communities don't know it because they are unemployed, too, or doing hand-to-mouth manual work.
FT We have created partnerships with Jobcentre Plus, which finds us Neets. The candidates must have been unemployed and claiming jobseeker's allowance for a minimum of four months. We select predominantly on attitude and we sign a contract with them.
We go through the disciplines and standards that are expected and what they can expect from us.
HdS Students spend six weeks on our programme. This teaches them the technical skills required to achieve a Reps (Register of Exercise Professionals) level two qualification in order to work as a qualified health and fitness instructor. More importantly, they learn the soft skills to enable them to become good citizens in a work environment.
FT The students then spend five months on a work placement in one of the major operators such as LA Fitness, Fitness First, David Lloyd or Virgin Active. The chief executives of all of those companies have sent me letters of support and commitment to take TAG students. At the end of their placement we want employers to take significant numbers of those young people into full-time employment.
HdS TAG launched in November 2009. By January 2010 we had created 90 jobs for young people. By the end of the year we will have created more than 1,000 jobs and we will be in over 30 centres nationwide.
FT The first challenge was funding. We privately funded a pilot to test the model. Then we had to make the decision whether to keep it small or to go big and find some government funding. We decided that big was beautiful and that we wanted to make a massive impact. We put in an application for funding from the Future Jobs Fund, along with our charitable partner, the National Skills Academy. We were successful and are now fully funded. It's quite an achievement from a standing start.
HdS Fred is chairman and I'm chief executive. I'm responsible for delivering. He's the public face. Together we work on strategy. I speak to Fred most days. We're on the phone all the time. I probably speak to him more than I do my wife. We meet three or four times a week.
FT We complement each other. I'm dyslexic and Howard is extremely articulate. I tend to come up with these great big notions and Howard can bring them together in a coherent plan. You get to know each other's strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths are in our ability to work together as partners and to bring things to life.
HdS The thing I most enjoy is making a difference. If we could find a job for one person who has been excluded from school, society or the workplace then it all will have been worthwhile. The fact that we are talking about 90 so far is phenomenal.
FT Howard and I love brainstorming and dreaming the impossible. I think it would be fair to say that if a few months ago you'd have said we would have landed £11.7m to deliver 1,080 jobs this year we both would have fallen off our chairs. But if you don't dream and you don't think big, you won't achieve anything.