Realisation • 17 January 2023

How to create a positive image of industry for the young people? (part I)

MEEF (FR) connects the low-skilled young people to the industrial companies (part I)

Many industrial companies have big difficulties in finding qualified staff. Ar the same time, many low-skilled young people have difficulties in finding a proper job. One and one is two, they thought at MEEF, a local guidance centre from the north of France. Together with other French, Flemish and British partners, they decided to set up the BHC21 project to encourage young people to find a job in the industry. Innovative technologies play a major role in the project - just like in the companies themselves.

MEEF stands for Maison pour l'Entreprise, l'Emploi et la Formation. It operates in the Santerre Haute Somme, a region in northern France. The BHC21 project consisted of two phases. First, the young people were given the chance to become familiar with the industrial sector. Then, a smaller group followed training to prepare them for the labour market.

Véronique Debuigny is project manager at MEEF and her colleague Christophe Chériaux is deputy director there. They explain how they conceived the project.

Negative image

Christophe: 'At MEEF, we help young people aged 16 to 25 who are no longer in school or education. They often have complex problems: a low schooling level, family and social difficulties, health and mobility problems... We don't tackle these problems separately, but as a whole. Together with the young people themselves, we try to ensure that they can find a job or start training again.

'Here in the region we have metal, aviation industry ... But those companies are having a hard time finding staff. However, these jobs are often stable, give you satisfaction and offer you career opportunities. So it would be ideal if we could enthuse our low-skilled young people to do so. The question is: how?

Many young people are unlikely to apply for a job in the industry. This is partly because industry suffers from a negative image. People think it is dirty, heavy and not very interesting work. Moreover, we have experienced a lot of factory closures here in recent years - the reputation of the sector has also suffered as a result. But a lot has changed in the meantime. Many factories are highly digitised and work with modern technologies. We wanted to respond to this by introducing our young people to innovative learning technologies. Just think of VR glasses, video assistants or smart voice assistants.'

made robot

Véronique: 'To appeal to young people, we used different methods and forms of work. For example, a colleague who used to work in industry himself gave awareness-raising workshops. Some 80 young people who follow a mentoring programme here at MEEF attended these workshops. They participated voluntarily - we wanted a group that had enthusiasm. Often, the young people don't really know what they want and what they can do, but tey had the chance to discover themselves during these workshops. Also, they could get to know the sector, the types of jobs they can do there... Among other things, they could try out specially developed VR glasses: this gave them a realistic picture of what a machine operator actually does.'

'We also organised company visits. This allowed the young people to discover interesting companies and jobs, but also the other way around. Some 40 young people took part to this.

'For a smaller group of interested people, we organised two robotics and programming workshops. Under our supervision, they could build a mini-robot, print it in 3D and programme it. A great success that gave their self-confidence a solid boost, especially considering that they started it with no prior technical knowledge.'

'That completed the first phase of the project - recruitment and awareness-raising. We then started investigating who wanted to take part in phase two: a training course to prepare them for the labour market. Eight young people responded positive. Not a huge number, but without covid there would certainly have been more. Unfortunately, there were no girls among them. Apparently, the industry still has a very male image.'

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