“A lot of employability programmes work very strictly – if you don’t turn up once, you’re out – but we’re fully flexible and the football is of course a big selling point.”
Craig Montgomery is a ‘well-kent’ face at our Edinburgh sessions, working exclusively with Street Soccer in our partnership with Working Rite since 2018. Craig, formerly a volunteer with Street Soccer, is delighted with the development of the programme since its inception.
“We work in a fully flexible programme with 16-24 year olds. This usually starts with an induction, working through modules that include SCQF qualifications, confidence building as well as developing CV’s and interview preparation. This is often suited to whatever the individual needs, and of course includes Street Soccer sessions, which we try and ensure stays a constant throughout their journey.
We might find these individuals through Street Soccer, or they may get referred through schools or other organisations – which I will then integrate them in to Street Soccer, depending on what sessions suits for the individual.”
The programme aims to allow Street Soccer players to feel empowered with a route in to employment, whether that be full-time, part-time or voluntary. Choice is always at the heart of the work we do with players and Craig believes its crucial to allow the individual time to find what they’re passionate about.
“We run the induction for as long as they need, this could be anything between one week and 6 months – its whenever they’re ready. When they are ready, I will look for paid working placements for them, which are usually around 12 weeks long. I identify employers for them, again this is suited for what they want to do. I approach employers locally, small to medium sized business who I think would be a good fit, and get everything in place for the individual to start their placement.
Depending on the person, the number of placements can vary – it’s entirely when they feel ready to progress. We can tailor this for the individual. If they aren’t ready for a full time paid placement, I might find a volunteer position which we can keep under review. It’s ‘player focused’ as we always say.”
Craig’s role means he often acts as a middle man between employers and players, and this way he can find out where their strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as building key relationships with potential employers.
Street Soccer is fortunate to have such strong relationships with small to medium sized employers across Scotland, where business owners are keen to give more players a chance.
Although the majority of Craig’s work takes place in Edinburgh, there is support for players right across the central belt, as well as another Working Rite employee Ewan, who works with players in Aberdeen.
The programme has grown with around 20 players taking part each year. Working alongside Edinburgh’s Mental Health Officer, Sean Humphrey’s, Craig has also developed a 10 week employability course at Portobello which will focus on mental health in the workplace as well as key social skills.
“Over the years the role for myself has developed from dealing with employability to being more of a mentor to these lads, making them feel secure and giving them a bit of belief. I think it works well that way because a lot of these guys will come to Street Soccer and just see me as one of the guys from their Street Soccer sessions. I always try and get them to work four days a week and come to at least one Street Soccer session, and thankfully most of the employers are happy with that.
Most of the guys who come along have perhaps missed school over the years, or dropped out with particular struggles and have never worked, been to college or gained any of their SQA qualifications. Some trial out different things before coming along, locally or further afield but we are open to anyone who wants to come. We want to help these guys overcome their challenges.”
Having been around Street Soccer sessions for a number of years, Craig is well aware of the barriers that are broken through football, allowing players to share more about where they might need support. Particularly following the pandemic, Craig notes there is a greater focus on the wellbeing of our younger players and ensuring that they are comfortable to return to familiar environments.
“It’s important for me to stay in touch as much as I can. Did they need any food? Credit on their phone? I need to know if they’re alright and that we’re not missing anything. However, on the flip side, the magic of it is that even when I’m not there, because I work so closely with Robbie, the guys are able to open up to him and the other coaches about their progress and any support that they might need. That’s a real strength to the programme.”
With a number of players referred through the Working Rite programme still engaging with Street Soccer, the programme continues to be highlighted as a key component to players personal development across sessions.
“We want to help as much as we can. We will prepare all of our participants for whatever they need. So, if its health and safety training they need, we can sort that. We’ll do interview prep, help with their CV etc. A little bit of work on how they conduct themselves and we can do that through the Street Soccer sessions. Working on communication but also giving them a bit of responsibility and allow them to mature.”
One particular player, Jordan Thomson, won Edinburgh Evening News’ Local Hero award after his progression as a volunteer with Street Soccer.
“Jordan was my first person on the programme. He’s smashing it now, engages with everyone and moved in to his flat, went to college and completed loads of placements. However, four years ago, Jordan wouldn’t say boo to a ghost. The progression of people like Jordan is really rewarding and makes the partnership more than worthwhile.
We deal with a lot of different participants, six on my current programme have additional support needs and they can all vary on the spectrum too. That’s something we need to work with employers to ensure the working conditions are suitable. For some of these guys who are autistic, a job role is absolutely huge. It’s a sense of identity and they’ll give more than 100%.”
Whilst the programme has its inevitable challenges, Craig is keen to highlight the personal satisfaction he takes from his role.
“When I do my induction, it helps when I tell them my own story. I am in the best job I’ve ever been in, but it took until I was in my 40s to find it. I’ve done plenty different things, I’ll tell them what I done when I left school and this helps them understand that there is no great pressure to find your own passion. It happens when it happens but we’ll be on hand to guide them with them. That’s why we say it’s more about life skills and trying new things, because you never know.
It’s important to remind them that they are young lads. They might come in with the weight on their shoulders but we want to educate them and ensure they understand that there is no rush to find the perfect job.”
Having a mentor like Craig is an asset to Street Soccer as much as it is to our players. The support from our staff allows players to make positive choices and understand the significance of communication both on and off the pitch. Once these things are in your toolbelt of skills, the rest becomes a lot easier.
“When I speak to employers, they all want the same three things” says Craig, “they want to know if they’ll show up, if they’ll be on time and if they’ll be willing to listen. They aren’t as interested in qualifications but they want to make sure they’ve got someone who wants to come and develop themselves. Most employers want to mould them in to a younger version of themselves.”
Street Soccer are delighted to have Working Rite as an employability partner, if you would like to learn more about the programme then please contact Craig Montgomery on [email protected]