Four months ago, Lyndon Noonan, age 16, was gloomily certain that he was about to join Britain's 3.2 million unemployed. So were Gillian Chambers, 16, and Carlton Morris, 17.
They were ready to leave secondary school, but they could find no jobs. Their city, Liverpool, is struggling with an unemployment rate of 20 percent, one in five.
Lyndon Noonan tried various plants, including the Vauxhall car plant, for training as an engineer near his home in Wallasey, a bedroom suburb across the Mersey River from Liverpool. Gillian Chambers was turned down by the police force. In Carlton's Toxteth neighborhood, every second youngster is out of work, and last year's rioting was one result.
But today, all three have something to do. They are being trained for the skills of the future - computers and word processing - rather than the industries of yesterday. All smile shyly when asked about their prospects. For them, life has begun to change.
Problems still lie ahead. Creating jobs is a formidable task in the midst of the recession affecting Western Europe and North America. Across Western Europe, almost 17 million are out of work. No single government has yet found a fully effective answer.
The British government is trying a number of methods, all of them controversial. Unemployment continues to rise, showing the urgent need for more answers to be found.
Lyndon Noonan, however, would grant you that someone has done something. His mother discovered in April that the Conservative government down in London was setting up about 100 Information Technology Centers around the country to train young people in computers. The very first one was to open just down the road in Wallasey itself.
It sounded almost too good to be true: places for 50 youngsters between the ages of 16 and 19 to spend a year learning electronics and computer programming, with each student being paid (STR)25 ($42.5) a week, and the hope of a good job at the end of it.
But today Lyndon sits at a bench in a light and airy room on Rake Lane in Wallasey, making up inventory lists for nails and bricks. He is both delighted and relieved.
''I mean, they won't go out, will they?'' he asks softly. The answer is no - computers are here to stay. His father has a small computer at home, and Lyndon is racing ahead.
Next door, Gillian Chambers has gone from being ''very worried'' to ''very pleased.'' She is spending her first month learning how to solder and make up circuit boards, but intends to specialize in word processors.
In the next room again, sits slim Kate Asbery, who left school a year ago and was turned down by the Post Office and by a number of factories when she applied for secretarial work. Against her will, she found herself in a noisy factory, on a production line, making metal cans for paint.
For seven months she endured it, losing heart and hope for the future. Then her local job center (unemployment office) sent her a letter about the Wallasey center. She applied and was accepted but at first was not convinced. She came in late a few times, then saw she was catching the wave of the future. She is a changed young woman.
The kind of programs she is writing for accounts have already attracted local businessmen. The funeral director next door came in, curious, and has now hired the computer equipment she is using to do all his accounts. Other companies, ignorant of the new technology until now, are coming in.
Kate's chances of a job are now very good, and she knows it. The center uses late-model word processors and capacious storage memories.
Patrick Burke, a project manager with the giant Gec-Marconi Electronics Company nearby, is organizing the center. An energetic, capable man, he was assigned to the center after a stint as refurbishment and maintenance manager on Britain's Mark 24 torpedo, said to be the model that sank Argentina's General Belgrano cruiser during the Falklands war. The plan for the centers followed the Toxteth riots last July. The money comes from the government's Manpower Services Commission (about (STR)120,000 per center for the first year) and the Department of Industry ((STR)35,000 in the first year for equipment, software, and a start on salaries).
Marconi is interested because it is a way of doing something for a rundown community, and because it is a way of showing local industry what new technology can do. That, in turn, will lead to more sales.
The Wallasey center has 47 students now. Two found jobs after only a few weeks' training. Mr. Burke culled the first students from younsters who had contacted Marconi looking for a job. He wrote to every one of them.
Racing to be the first in the country, he, his staff, and their wives and families cleaned up the building and made ready for the official opening in April by the government minister in charge of Merseyside redevelopment, Michael Heseltine.
There are no blacks at this center, but down on the edge of Toxteth itself, Diane Crawford, a young black woman, has undergone six months of intensive office training at the Wirral computer center on Hope Street. One of five Toxteth trainees, she now teaches office routine and basic computer work to white and black Toxteth youngsters.
Carlton Morris sits at a table with 19 other youngsters, copying information about computers and preparing to act out what should happen when a customer walks into a receptionist's office.
The program is part of the government's youth opportunities program, known as YOP. It lasts for 12 months, including almost six months of trainee placement in commercial offices. Students earn (STR)25 per week in government funds.
Carlton shrugs. ''It's something to do now that school's out,'' he says. ''You learn something. Me, I'm going back to school in September. I have two 'O' levels (national examinations taken at age 16) and I'll take six more.''
''We talked to blacks in Toxteth while last year's riots were still in progress,''said Wirral manager G. K. Long. ''The community nominated the five instructors. We trained them and now they train the young people. The hardest part is guaranteeing the government the job placements. That's tough in today's economic climate, and after the riots, but we're doing it.
''Something has to be done in Liverpool,'' he says emphatically. ''We have to show these youngsters that there's a world outside Toxteth. We have to broaden their horizons.''
Around the nation, some half million young people are in YOP projects. Many who have completed 12 months in them face a lack of jobs once again as the recession lingers.