At 16 years old, Berkshire-based George Herbert’s career dreams were in tatters. Ever since he was young, he had aspirations of joining the army, picturing it as his dream career. However, after going through all the training, he found out it wasn’t for him which began a downward spiral in his life.
Attempting to arrest the slide, he enrolled at Reading College to get back into education. However, he soon realised he hadn’t fully got over the disappointment of his army dreams falling apart, becoming aggressive and falling into the wrong crowd.
This behaviour continued and unfortunately, it led to George being kicked out of college and stuck in a tough place with no academic future and no idea of what he wanted to do.
One constant in George’s life was the strong support of his mum, who never gave up on him. Through her work as a police officer, she heard about the London Irish HITZ programme, a local education and employability programme run by the rugby club to support 16-24-year-olds not in education, training or employment (NEET).
She arranged for George to meet the club’s HITZ Officer, Ainsley Campbell, something that wasn’t originally appreciated by him: “When she told me, straight away I said no, I don’t want to do anything like that, that’s not me,” explained George. “My mum had to drag me out of the house on that day and looking back, it’s the best thing she ever did. Speaking to Ainsley made me feel like I finally had someone who understood me, and it completely changed me.
“It felt like someone was on my side and it was completely different to what I was used to. He sat down with me and said we’re going to make something of you. It was nice to have someone who doesn’t care about what you’ve done in the past and tell you that you’re going to get through this. It was after that I decided that I’m going to get up every morning and make something out of myself.”
HITZ gave George’s life a renewed structure. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, the learners were studying in the classroom at the John Madejski Academy in the mornings, followed by practical sessions in the afternoon. Wednesday was a day dedicated to playing rugby which used the sport’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship to help the participants. Complementing these activities, Fridays saw the 20-strong cohort of students undertake work experience at the local Holiday Inn to learn vital employability skills to help their development.
After completing his BTEC qualification, George was considering staying on to study for a Level 2 qualification. However, with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and having learned so much from HITZ, he took the decision to seek full-time employment.
“Everyone at HITZ had done so much for me in that time and I felt I was ready to go out in the real world,” explained George. “I was looking around for apprenticeships, which Ainsley was helping with. I’d decided I wanted to go into trade work as my dad is a plasterer and my brother is a plumber and that’s the career that I saw myself in. By chance, my brother text me a link to a plumbing and gas apprenticeship at Reading Borough Council. I wanted to apply for it, thinking I may get an interview, but I didn’t think anything would happen as they were after certain grades which I didn’t have but regardless, I thought I’d give it a go.”
Before submitting his application, he worked closely with Ainsley to professionally write up his CV and prepare for a potential interview. Ainsley challenged George with potential questions that the interviewer might ask and provided him a reference for his application. After applying for the role, three months passed with no word but then out of the blue, he was offered an interview.
With all the preparation under his belt, Reading Borough Council were incredibly impressed with George and offered him a four-year apprenticeship. The apprenticeship comprises two years of plumbing and two years of gas engineering. Now 7 months into the role, George has new aspirations of setting up his own business and will be forever grateful for the role that HITZ played in his development.
“The main thing it taught me is the discipline to get up every day and apply myself to something,” added George. “People give up on things too quickly these days and HITZ showed me that whenever there’s a bit of a struggle and you don’t feel like getting up in the morning, make sure you do as you’ll never regret it. When the afternoon comes around, you’ll finish the day and however small the achievement is, you’ll feel like you’ve achieved something today.”
Now in its tenth year, George is one of over 14,000 young people who have engaged with the HITZ programme since its inception in 2008. It has achieved some incredible results, with nearly nine out of ten participants completing the HITZ Learning Academy and the same figure reporting an improvement in their personal, social and physical wellbeing. The programme is funded by partners Land Rover, Comic Relief and Wooden Spoon.
For more information on HITZ, visit https://www.premiershiprugby.com/in-the-community/breakthru/hitz/.