He scribbled away at his own designs, helped out in a friend’s studio for free and followed the work of established tattooists as other young people might idolise pop stars - never daring to imagine he might one day become one himself.
Meanwhile, desperate just to get off benefits and end his money worries, he applied for any job going. However, apart from of a couple of soul-destroying stints in a fast food restaurant and pot washing, he could not find anything meaningful and became increasingly despondent and demoralised.
It was only when he was referred to the Government’s Work Programme in Leeds that he got the support and business advice he needed to turn his natural artistic talent into a career.
Now he is living his dream, working as self-employed tattoo artist in his friend’s buzzing studio, earning decent money doing what he loves best.
Callum, 21, from Bramley, said: “I spent the last two years unemployed and applying for jobs from warehousing to catering, anything to get me off the dole. A lot of them were out of town and off the bus routes and I couldn’t cope with jobs that didn’t mean anything to me. I wanted a career.
“All the time I was developing my tattooing skills and designs and helping out in my mate’s shop. But I never dreamed I could make a living from it. It seemed out of reach, unrealistic to even think that I could.
“But two months ago I signed off benefits to do just that. I love what I do. I couldn’t work anywhere better.”
He had feared that he would be forced into any old job and threatened with sanctions when he started Work Programme.
He said: “It wasn’t like that at all. They took time to find out about me and what I wanted to do. They encouraged and supported me to take up an opportunity at my friend’s shop.
“They gave me an enterprise advisor who put me on a self employment course and guided me through everything I needed to know, from writing a business plan to marketing and how to register and do all my tax returns and paperwork.
“It gave me the knowledge and confidence to go for it. I felt ready to take up the offer from my mate at Skinz tattoo studio to join his team and I am part of the Skinz family now.
“I know I still have Rebekah Carroll and Amelia Charles, my advisors, behind me if I have any problems or questions. I’m still stunned it’s all worked out like this. Now I want to get better at what I do and make a name for myself.”
Callum’s work ranges from mandalas, intricate circular spirtual symbols from Buddhism and Hinduism, to Polynesian work and custom designs, many of which can be seen on his Instagram account, Tattoosbycallum.
Now in its fifth year of operation, the Work Programme provides tailored support for unemployed customers who need more help to undertake active and effective job-seeking.
Find out more about our support services for jobseekers on the Work Programme.