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Building bridges to education helps youths move forward

Building bridges to education helps youths move forward

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Tomas Bertelsen

Denmark has had success supporting marginalised youths to make sure they get an education. Mentor support, teaching and help finding apprenticeships makes the difficult transition into studies and work easier.

25 year old Simon Bondorff Rasmussen has tried staring into a black hole. Today he is optimistic about the future. He is part of the Danish state-run project ‘Brobygning til Uddannelse’ (building a bridge to education) which has helped him start an education as a plumber.

“Getting started has been fantastic, and I am very happy to get the education I’m about to get,” says Simon Bondorff Rasmussen.

He has been part of project ‘Brobygning til Uddannelse’ via a sub project, Way2Go, at the Technical Education Copenhagen, TEC. When Simon Bondorff Rasmussen started at Way2Go he was not very optimistic about the future. He was claiming unemployment benefit and says he spent most of his time on the sofa smoking a lot of hashish.

“I lost my mother a couple of years ago and suffered a minor depression and started abusing hashish. It was a black hole which grew deeper and deeper.”

Mentor help led to internship

The project targets young unemployed people between 18 and 29 on state benefit, in other words not the strongest but not the most vulnerable youths. Simon Bondorff Rasmussen is one of 3,000 youths in this group who has benefited from the project’s support in the shape of a unique and close cooperation between the young person, the job centre, technical college and the labour market, all linked by mentors.  

Brobygning 2

Simon Bondorff Rasmussen’s mentor in the project has helped him identify his chosen education and occupation, and when he told his mentor that he would quite like to work for a plumbing firm, the mentor put him in touch with one.

“My mentor has been incredibly good at getting me going. 15 minutes after telling him I was interested in plumbing, my mentor had got in touch with a plumbing firm. He has also given me support to go the extra mile and make a good impression.”

To begin with Simon Bondorff Rasmussen spent a week with the plumbing firm in order to understand what it means to work in that kind of workplace. Simon Bondorff Rasmussen was enthusiastic and the joy was mutual: the plumbing firm invited him to stay for another week and then offered him an apprenticeship. Without a mentor, Simon Bondorff Rasmussen reckons it is unlikely he would have had such success:

“I turned up ten minutes before work started in order to make a god impression, and I must have succeeded because I am now working as an adult apprentice.”

The plumbing education is part practical work, part schooling, and Simon Bondorff Rasmussen was particularly excited about meeting the plumbing installation technicians in the firm where he now works. He was a bit worried about living up to expectations, because he had still not had a job for a very long period of time.

Another hurdle for many youths in the bridge building project is having to go back to school. Many have bad experiences from school and struggle getting up in the morning or get into fights with teachers and other students. Simon Bondorff Rasmussen has just started the school part of his education, and has not felt the transition to be difficult. His mentor has also been with him in school and the two of them have been speaking with advisors and teachers together.

“I don’t think i would have got as far without a mentor who could give me a final push to get out and talk to people, and I would highly recommend mentor help to young people like me. It has been of great help.”

From the street to school

Simon Slott May


20 year old Simon Slott May agrees. He has also been part of project ‘Brobygning til Uddannelse’ and is now half way through his electrician training:

“Without the project I would probably still be roaming the streets with my friends, not getting an education and only taking odd jobs when I needed money.”

He became part of the project when he at one stage needed money for his rent and went to the job centre. This is where he was offered a concrete bridge building programme,  Way2Go, and accepted.

Simon Slott May has taken part in other projects for young people without a job or education, and likes Way2Go the best because of the way the bridging programme works and its use of mentors:

“The mentors at Way2Go don’t just see me as another cog in the wheel. They care about me and help me with all kinds of stuff which otherwise would have been insurmountable — for instance writing a proper application and getting a driver’s licence, which I needed in order to get my apprenticeship.”

Another benefit he has gained from Way2Go is that it has helped him identify working goals:

“I always worked a lot, but I never knew what I was doing. I do now, and this gives me a completely different motivation in everyday life to get out of bed and go to work or school.”

He now feels so well set up that he only has sporadic contact with his mentor. Sometimes he drives past the mentor’s office and pops in to say hello, and it is important to be able to do this:

“I can look after myself now and I have an extra job on top of my education. I work in a call centre and for many months now I have been the top seller in my department. But it is nice to know that my mentor is still there until I finish my education.

The difficult transitions

Both Simon Slott May and Simon Bondorff Rasmussen live on their own without their families in their own flat. Both say they have struggled with the challenges of daily life in the past, for instance getting up in the morning. They are not alone. Many vulnerable youths need very basic support for basic practical things in a transitional phase, before they truly settle into an education programme, according to Way2Go, who offers what they call "maintaining mentors" The title is chosen with care. That is precisely what the young person needs the most help with — maintaining focus.

This group of young people particularly struggle with transitions into something new, and this is where they need help so that they don’t give up when they’re half way there.

The project differs from others that exist for young unemployed people in that the mentors are helping the young person focus on the issues which will help them finish an education. Many other projects have a broader aim.

From project to permanent offer

Way2Go’s results are so good that this is now a permanent offer for municipalities, says Ulla-Birgitte Nies, project leader at TEC, which cooperates with ten job centres. This means that municipalities now pay to put young people through a bridging programme with the aim of getting them started with and keeping them in an education.


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