15409749_10207505361291598_1672778059_o   Travelling overnight to a national convention in London the next day, seeing many organizations and innovators coming together from across the country to butt their heads together to discuss ways of tackling youth unemployment makes you feel many things…

…mainly relief that you’ve managed to navigate your way through the labyrinth of London without getting lost. Google Maps, you are a godsend.

I travelled over to London on 4th December 2016 alongside four of Talent Match Leicestershire’s finest – Callum Black, Tom Davis, Alex George and Akshay Sharma – where we stayed in a Travelodge overnight. The next day, we headed for the conference.

We checked into St. Paul’s Etc Venues – my prior experience with hotel names briefly led me to believe this was an ironic typo. Heavy emphasis on the ‘briefly’. We disposed of our bags in the bag room, giving my arm some much-needed recovery from the suitcase after dragging it through London.

15409780_10207505362491628_752940250_o   I later learned that some members of the breakfast panel had been unable to make it for whatever reason, and so, I was asked if I wanted to be on the panel. Looking back, I can say it was a great experience, but at the time, I couldn’t help being reminded of Richard Dreyfus being lowered into the shark tank at the climax of Jaws.

The day got off to a VERY promising start with the adult panel addressing a major elephant in the room; education. They discussed how they planned to bridge the gap between education and employment, working closely with schools to ensure students were equipped with the right skills and opportunities for a career.
15354262_10207505364531679_1338519013_o   Upon completing the breakfast panel (sans the actual breakfast), we made our way through to the Premium room, where many of the largest sessions would take place. Once seated, we sat through the opening ceremony, where I had to manage the seemingly impossible task of alternating between scribbling down notes, taking pictures, and of course, looking like I was paying attention. Considering I was juggling two pens, a phone, an Ipod and a notepad, I felt a mild envy for octopuses… and pretty much anything with more than two arms.

15398921_10207505363731659_1106963790_o   We then moved on to the first Plenary between two panels (one adult, one YP) focusing on the future for young people. Among the YP was TM’s very own Callum Black, on hand to lend his views and raise the issue of underemployment, a worrying middle-ground.

We were invited to choose a series of breakout sessions, each covering a different subject. Given the whole choosing, I was half-expecting there to be options to phone a friend or ask the audience… I seriously hope I’m not alone in knowing that reference.

15397609_10207504919280548_1794951910_o   We proceeded to breakout room 5, which covered mental health among young people. I had previously met Collette Taylor from Talent Match Liverpool at the conference in Sheffield (see here), and was once again blown away by the model they had constructed to support young people struggling with mental health. From causes to guidance to support services, no stone had been left unturned. It made us ponder whether such a model could be relevant for people with hidden conditions.

After that, I myself participated in plenary 2, where by this point, the pen ink was running out. Easily the most writing I’ve ever done without a computer. So instead, I had to defer to good old-fashioned memory… which would have been fine if I wasn’t as forgetful as Dory from Finding Nemo. I’ll led the readers decide how well the memory option panned out for me.

15397692_10207505364291673_1909813371_o   I got round to asking the adult panel the big questions surrounding hidden condition support and whether school support could be extrapolated into the workplace. Given that the majority of our Hidden Talent work has consisted of awareness up to this point, I wasn’t really expecting a specific answer. So imagine my shock and joy when Mike Thompson from Barclays discussed a detailed support program that the company runs catering to the development of HCCs (Hidden Condition Candidates, sorry, any excuse to work an acronym in there). To hear such a detailed support plan with paid employment as the endgame was perhaps the best news I’ve heard since Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar.

15369760_10207504946041217_667505149_o   We then moved onto two more breakout sessions; Best Practice Masterclass and Work and Careers in which we observed how opportunities for young people had been crafted based on research from employers based around London. Of course, there was a minor technical fault, but luckily Alex George was on hand to sort it out (he will make a powerful ally in the war against the machines).

15388574_10207505344051167_722179106_o   For the final part of the day, we observed a Dragon’s Den. By this point in the day, many of the visitors had left to return to their respective homes, and the final audience probably took up two fifths of the seats. I hadn’t seen numbers dwindle so dramatically since I watched Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None… at least these guys made it out alive.
The individuals involved all offered up their own solutions to combat unemployment, from a personalized budget to our brothers-in-arms PADD (People’s Awareness of Disability Discrimination). Of course, there was a youth panel there to question the implementation of these plans, but fairly soft queries, so anyone expecting an Apprentice-styled interrogation would probably be disappointed. It was an enjoyable session and fascinating to see the strategies these individuals had concocted to combat youth unemployment. They seemed fairly methodical and thought-out… although I can’t help wishing the Dragon’s Den had had an actual dragon.
15369798_10207505339971065_190725063_o-1   Finally, we were introduced to THE PLEDGE. A series of goals everyone was going to work towards to improve the chances of young people finding employment. We made sure to burn the image into our brains…by which I mean using what little phone battery we had left to take a picture lest our memories depart us.

At long last the day was at an end, and we headed for the train home. I still wonder what was heavier on that journey; the bags we were carrying, or the bags under our eyes. Confound unconventional sleeping patterns!


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