“If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress”, is a quote attributed to U.S. President Barack Obama, and it couldn’t sum up Anthony Johnston’s life any better.
His traditional choice of career path was one well treaded, achieving GCSE’s at schoo and then progressing to college to study a specialist area. In his case joinery, before gaining qualifications in the subject he both enjoyed and felt he was skilled at.
However after leaving college and not being able to secure work, Anthony plunged into despair.
“I had my own house and needed to pay the bills; I couldn’t get work and got in with the wrong
crowd. That was when the problems started.”
Anthony was convicted of drug offences and sent to prison. A life-changing event which left him
reeling from the fact getting employers to take his skills seriously with a criminal record would
mean he was always disadvantaged in securing employment.
Fortunately Anthony came across the Fusion21 managed Construction Academy workshops within
HMP Liverpool, developed in partnership with Manchester College, providing inmates with the
opportunity to gain valuable work based qualifications.
“Trust works both ways, and I was given tools to learn plastering, bricklaying and paintwork. I repaid it by getting my head down and gaining a Level 1 qualification in Basic Construction. Fusion21 offered further help by suggesting enrolment onto the Get Into Building Maintenance course they were about to start in conjunction with The Princes Trust.”
With the support of M.A.L.S, a registered charity involved with the Integrated Offender Management Scheme, Anthony went to the Open
Day at Fusion21’s Skills Centre.
“Even at 22 I could hear younger people saying the same things I did a couple of years earlier, some didn’t want to interact and had attitude. But I knew I had matured a bit and thought I could help them to make sure they didn’t make the mistakes I did.“
During the four week course Anthony worked with a dozen others in classroom based tests and practical tasks in the Fusion21 skills centre before heading out onto construction sites to ply their new found knowledge.
The foundations for Anthony’s new path were laid by contractor Lovell. One of a growing number of contractors who regard social value as integral to their operations, and were happy to take on new work experience placements from the course.
“I was born and have lived in Huyton all of my life. So when Lovell put me on a housing development of 26 homes for Knowsley Housing Trust (KHT), just around the corner from where I grew up, I felt proud.” adds Anthony.
“Getting up and having a purpose was nice, keeping a routine. Things like having your dinner when you want with the team on a building site as opposed to being told when you can eat in prison were a different world to me.
Mum and Dad have always been KHT tenants so it felt weird. I was a local lad building homes for people in the community. I felt proud, genuine pride, might sound corny but that was how it was making me feel. I would bike around to the site every morning and loved it."
Chris Humphreys, Regional Training Advisor at Lovell Partnerships Ltd, says the company sees the wider picture on the horizon. “We have an obligation to train the next generation of builders. This is a win win situation for all, our customers for whom we are building homes, those taking part on the course and for us as we can increase people’s employability and give them a helping hand. We work closely with Fusion21 and The Princes Trust so hopefully it can continue to grow as a flourishing partnership."
25th April saw the course participants graduate and presented with their certificates of achievement in a special event attended by all parties.
Russell Brady, The Prince’s Trust Programme Executive for Get Into, short vocational courses that develop young people's skills in a specific sector, said: “Offering young people relevant qualifications and real life experiences gives them a boost. Many have faced a number of challenges in their own lives but have now proved themselves as this course has been completed voluntarily.”
Ian McDonough, Fusion21’s Training and Employment Manager, added: “People who build trust and a history with organisations makes them worth employing more than others. That is why this course provides such a great opportunity for them. We're also working with Anthony now on a full NVQ site assessment to complete his qualifications in construction."
Armed with references and encouragement to apply for targeted positions, Anthony wants to continue working in either construction or even develop further and gain his fork lift driving licence. “My confidence is high, self esteem is something I have back and I’ve realised the value of giving something back to the community.”
A new path Anthony plans to keep walking along to further success.