Opportunity is knocking for Portsmouth youngsters

CONCENTRATION Joseph Tillotson, six, with BAE graduate Alaisha Aziz. Picture: Paul Jacobs (132912-1)
CONCENTRATION Joseph Tillotson, six, with BAE graduate Alaisha Aziz. Picture: Paul Jacobs (132912-1)

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It has become a firm fixture in the calendar, and has been credited with helping inspire young people to work harder at school, raising their attainment levels.

This year’s Portsmouth Opportunities Fair took place at the Guildhall on Saturday, and saw hundreds of youngsters – and their parents – visit.

JUICY TIME Reece Ellis-Imber, 11, on the John Pounds Centre bike-powered smoothie maker with Megan Stewart, a sports leadership apprentice. ''Picture: Paul Jacobs (132912-2)

JUICY TIME Reece Ellis-Imber, 11, on the John Pounds Centre bike-powered smoothie maker with Megan Stewart, a sports leadership apprentice. ''Picture: Paul Jacobs (132912-2)

Dozens of companies, both big and small, were showing off the kinds of careers that the city has to offer and what youngsters need to do to get those kinds of jobs.

There was a giant robot from BAE Systems, casts of handprints being made from defence specialist Selex ES, bed-making skills from the Marriott hotel group, a virtual reality computer from the University of Portsmouth and, from IBM, the opportunity to fly a plane using movements from your body.

Big businesses Pfizer and Pall Europe joined in the fun, as well as smaller firms such as solicitors Biscoes and Coffin Mew, as well as the Southern Co-operative.

Public sector organisations including the Royal Navy, Hampshire Fire Service, and Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust were also there, inspiring young people and perhaps igniting that spark which will see them go on to careers in those industries in the future.

Kirsty Harris, a nurse with the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, was at the fair with medical simulation doll called Birthing Noelle.

She said: ‘I left school with no qualifications at all, but then I went to college to do my GCSEs, did my nursing training, became an intensive care nurse and then went on to do a master’s and I’m now studying for a PhD.

‘I’m here to show people that if you leave school with no qualifications there are different ways you can develop them.’

This year is the third year the fair has been run, and is organised by the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Education and Business Partnership on behalf of the Shaping the Future of Portsmouth organisation.

The EBP’s Jacquie Jones said this year’s event had been busier than 2012, when more than 2,000 young people came along, though the official figures are still being tallied.

She said: ‘It has been really popular and I would like to say how enthusiastic and committed all the exhibitors were, and the vast majority of them have been back every year for three years now.

‘I’d also like to thank everyone who came along today and supported the event.’

The Portsmouth Opportunities Fair is set to return next year, and is aimed at youngsters aged between 10 and 13 years old.

Portsmouth Lord Mayor Lynne Stagg visited the event yesterday. She said: ‘It’s absolutely brilliant, because it is aspirational and one of the things we need to do is get young kids to aspire to do better.

‘The council cannot afford to support this event financially, but the Lord Mayor gets one day of free use of the Guildhall a year, and I am sure Steve Wemyss will continue to support it in this way when he takes over from me.’

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of the fair is Marcus Davidson, of IBM.

He was showing youngsters how they could control a plane on a simulator just by moving their bodies.

He said: ‘I talk to them about how when there’s a problem, IBM takes the technology, matches it to the problem, and creates a solution.

‘I show them this, and then ask them what problems could be solved with this technology. They come up with all sorts of things, especially when they’ve seen the big robot that’s here, and say about controlling a robot on Mars, or sending it in to clean up a chemical spill.

‘To have an event like this to answer kids’ questions is brilliant.’