A construction-industry stalwart determined to find jobs for everyone has been made a MBE in the New Year Honours list.
John White is manager of Southwark Construction Skills Centre which has provided training to 8,000 people since it was founded three-and-a-half years ago – including ex-offenders, ex-military and ex-gang members, people referred from the job centre and mums.
He received the confidential news of his award a few weeks before the formal announcement on January 1.
“It was a surprise – very shocking,” he said. “I was digging the garden and someone said ‘You have a letter here. Do you want to open this? It looks very official’ and I did, then I went back to digging as I couldn’t quite believe it.”
The Skills Centre, run in Elephant Park with its developers Lendlease and Southwark council, works to bring employers and residents together.
John said: “We work within our community, South London. We are going to employers, finding out what they want. If they are going to employ people, what jobs are on offer? What are the skills they need? What kind of person are they looking for? Then, we run the training.
“My big push is to make sure the training is open to everyone. There are barriers to training, maybe age, previous qualifications, and we want there to be no barriers. If you are 16 or 74, no matter where you come from in the community, the opportunity is open. If you’re the right person, you’re the right person.”
The centre trains ex-offenders, ex-military and ex-gang members, people referred from the job centre, or those who just drop in – for no appointment is necessary – such as mums with children in tow.
The training includes new skills as well as upskilling, for example, of retired members of the construction industry coming back to work in a less labour-intensive, more plant-dominated environment. John also reached out to the local Latin American community in Elephant Park, with more than 200 people turning up to his initial presentation.
Apprentices are also important and John is “keen that they go into the community to work rather than just into our yard or classroom”.
The many and varied projects apprentices have become involved in include Southwark Peace Gardens in Walworth Road, dedicated to reducing knife crime and providing support to community members affected by it.
The Diversity Garden in King James Street and Surrey Docks Farm in Rotherhithe are also beneficiaries.
In 2020, the centre will be expanding to Brixton and to Stratford in partnership with Transport for London. John will also be attending Buckingham Palace to receive his medal.
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