Set an ambitious target, the Foundation for Jobs has exceeded all expectations. Deputy Business Editor, Lauren Pyrah, examines its achievements and speaks to those who have experience of the campaign.

THE Bishop of Durham-backed campaign to tackle youth unemployment is set to be extended for a further two years after the initiative smashed targets four months ahead of schedule.

Devised by The Northern Echo and Darlington Partnership in response to the high level of unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds, the Foundation For Jobs campaign, was launched in April 2012 as a year-long project aiming to help 100 of Darlington’s young people onto apprenticeship programmes.

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It also set out to find another 100 work experience, as well as give 50 budding entrepreneurs start-up advice, and engage 1,000 students with businesses by hosting link events.

Eight months later, the campaign, led by coordinator Owen McAteer, has successfully:

• Found apprenticeships for 102 young people;

• Helped 105 young people into internships;

• Given 66 young people advice on starting their own companies; and

• Provided inspiration and aspiration to 959 school pupils through company-led events.

The final target is set to be exceeded by the deadline, with a hovercraft build event involving 150 learners to be held in March.

Employers have formed a key part of the campaign’s success, with 34 different private, public and voluntary organisations taking on apprentices.

Mobile phone network firm Everything Everywhere led the way by taking on 37 apprentices, while Darlington Borough Council has created eight apprenticeship placements.

The Northern Echo has taken on two digital media apprentices, while a number of smaller firms and charities have been encouraged by the campaign to take on their first apprentice.

As well as the raft of apprenticeships and internships, the campaign has also successfully given young people important insights into the world of business, by introducing school pupils to employers through a number of events designed to be fun as well as educational.

With support from Foundation for Jobs, Virgin Money’s Make £5 Grow initiative, which lends primary school pupils £5 and asks them to develop products they can sell to make a profit which the school keeps, has been rolled out to schools in the Darlington area for the first time, including Mowden Junior School.

Inspiring older pupils were apprentices from Darchem Engineering, in Stillington, near Stockton, James Watmore, 23, and Libby Johnson, 18, gave final year pupils at Darlington secondary schools an account of their experiences as apprentices.

Manufacturing engineer, Mr Watmore, started an apprenticeship at 18, after completing his A-levels and was named UK Nuclear Apprentice of the Year in March, while apprentice welder Ms Johnson is one of the growing number of young women entering the traditionally male-dominated engineering sector.

At a Low Carbon Engineering event, held at Lingfield Point in July, pupils were able to make electric car batteries from coins with Nissan, use a computer programme to design an engine with Cummins and wire mini wind turbines with training firm South West Durham Training.

Pupils from every secondary school in Darlington have been involved in a joint activity with the Institution of Civil Engineers North-East to build a bridge.

Mike Airey, a board member of Darlington Partnership and branch manager of Handelsbanken, helped to come up with the idea for the campaign after discussing with The Northern Echo's editor Peter Barron the problems facing young people trying to get into the workplace.

He said: “The involvement of companies across the full range of industry sectors in Darlington is testament to the value of Foundation for Jobs and the strength of the scheme.

"It is now important to build on this success to ensure we continue to improve opportunities for employees and employers in the town.”

Tim Grant, principal of Darlington College, which has been involved in helping to find companies who want to take on apprentices through the campaign, said: “I’m delighted that the Darlington Foundation For Jobs has exceeded all its targets for the first year.

"More than ever business and education need to keep working together to build a positive future for young people."

Darchem Engineering managing director Graham Payne said: “Foundation for Jobs is an excellent, and very worthwhile initiative, helping to increase the number of opportunities available to apprentices in our region, and its work reflects the work we are doing here at Darchem.”

Desmond McMenamin, Cummins Plant Manager said. "We hope that this will support the growth of a strong local talent pool for future apprenticeship and graduate opportunities within our company."

Mr Barron said the campaign’s success was down to the community.

“We set ambitious targets but they have all been met,” he said.

“Not once has any business turned us down when asked for support - whether taking on an apprentice or intern, or in becoming involved in events giving our school age children a genuine and interactive insight into careers and jobs many previously knew nothing about.

“Not once has any school or college said they would not become involved. Indeed, the most repeated question has been: 'How can we help?' The response from across our community has been truly remarkable.”