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Personal Story - Zola

20 year old Zola now works part-time as a Customer Assistant at Marks & Spencer. He is also going to college, studying Maths and English. He is “happy working in retail and would like to see if [he] can progress.” But before October 2012, Zola's prospects seemed bleak.

Since doing the programme and getting a job, I feel more confident within myself. Although I’m not earning much more than when I was on benefits, I feel more satisfied with my life and enjoy spending the money which I earn on things I want. Before, I used to get tired from sitting around, now I get tired from working.

- Zola
Zola arrived in the UK alone in March 2011 as an asylum seeker from Ethiopia. He first lived in holding accommodation while seeking asylum, moving to a hostel in Bristol with 40 other residents once he had secured the right to remain in the UK.

He was determined to get a job but knew that his situation made this difficult – his hostel accommodation was not set up to help him to find work, and what’s more, Zola didn’t have confidence in his desirability as an employee: “No-one would look at my CV as I didn’t have any experience working in the UK”. Also, as he had never been interviewed before, he was nervous about that too.

Zola set out to make himself more employable, going to college to study English, Maths and IT. He also started to volunteer on reception at a local drop-in service for homeless people. With this experience under his belt, he decided he was ready for the next step towards a job.

When his key worker told him about Business in the Community’s Ready for Work programme, he jumped at the chance to gain skills and experience in the workplace: “I thought it would be a great opportunity to gain experience with a big brand and that it would look good on my CV.” He also knew the programme offered follow up support to help people into work, not just the placement, unlike some of the other opportunities he had previously taken up.

Following two days of pre-placement training with the Ready for Work team, Zola was offered a placement at Marks & Spencer as part of their Marks & Start scheme. He worked across the food section throughout his two weeks there and got to grips with it quickly:

“I found the work easy to pick up and once I got my bearings I was able to help the customers too. The induction process really started the placement on the right foot and my knowledge of M&S began to grow.”

With the support of his colleagues, who he says “made [him] feel welcome and like nothing was too much trouble” Zola excelled on his placement and was offered a Christmas contract as a result. This was followed by the offer of his current permanent position.

Zola is clear that without the placement at M&S, he would have found it tough to get a job. But his experience of Ready for Work and Marks & Start gave him not just a job, but also an opportunity to become happier and more independent:

“Since doing the programme and getting a job, I feel more confident within myself. Although I’m not earning much more than when I was on benefits, I feel more satisfied with my life and enjoy spending the money which I earn on things I want. Before, I used to get tired from sitting around, now I get tired from working.”