The new training course that helped Anne McGill get her summer job as a gallery attendant in Edinburgh has changed the course of her life. It's a job that she never dreamed she would do and she is thoroughly enjoying it.
She spends some of her time at the City Art Centre, occasionally a day at the Scott Monument and some days works at the Museum of Childhood, chatting with people as they reminisce about their childhood memories.
It is very different from what Ms McGill used to do. For more than 20 years she held administration and other office jobs but became disillusioned with her working life. After a break for a few years due to ill health, she returned to college last November at the age of 44 to put her on the path to another career.
The course she took, called Cultivate, has been set up by Access to Industry, is delivered by the school of creative arts at Edinburgh's Telford College and is funded through Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian. It leads to an SVQ level 2 in cultural venue support that is validated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
The training programme, which is part of the Employment Academies initiative in Edinburgh, targets people from all backgrounds, particularly those who are long-term unemployed, and aims to get them into work in the city's cultural sector. As well as spending time at college learning job-related skills, the course involves a long period of work experience at a theatre, museum or gallery.
Of the 11 trainees to complete the pilot programme, such as Ms McGill, four have taken jobs with their placement provider, two are going into work within the cultural sector, two are moving on to other training or work in a different sector and three are doing unpaid work or looking for jobs.
Due to its success, the course is set to run again, though with some changes, including starting in September, explains Access to Industry co-ordinator Gillian Staveley.
"The pilot ran from last November until May this year. It began with a month in college and then a five-month work placement.
"We had positive feedback about the course from both the trainees and the employers and because it was successful we are going to continue with it.
We are looking at ways of addressing problems - training or recruitment problems within the scheme - and have made a few changes."
The induction course will be six weeks long instead of four, she says, as they had a lot to fit in, the placement will be for six months instead of five and trainees will come into college every two weeks while they are on placement, rather than once a month, to have more regular contact with their Cultivate tutors.
"We have been working on making the SVQ assessment run more smoothly. It was quite difficult initially and the paperwork built up at periods, but now it should run more smoothly," says Ms Staveley.
The time at college aims to get a sense of work routine into the lives of the trainees as well as preparing them for employment.
"During this time we look at job readiness and also deal with things such as customer skills, disability awareness, health and safety and we look at the industry itself," says Ms Staveley. "We look at job descriptions and discuss what a trainee would be expected to do and then we match people to placements by looking at their skills and interests.
"Employers also came in to interview the trainees."
Ms McGill found the time at college was good for building her confidence and meeting people in a similar situation. "When you have been out of work you do lose quite a lot of confidence," she admits.
"The first month was quite difficult but very enjoyable. Some classmates found it more interesting than others but it was a good introduction to what was expected of you. We learned quite a lot."
The placement was part-time, 21 hours a week. Each trainee had a dedicated supervisor at his or her place of work, went into college once a month and received weekly visits from Ms Staveley, plus regular visits from a college assessor.
"The idea of the placements is that they are working as any normal employee with the exception that they generally get a more varied experience," says Ms Staveley. "They move from department to department and spend time spent working at front of house, in the box office or in administration. It varies quite a lot."
Ms McGill's placement was with the National Museums of Scotland. "I did some work with the cleaning team, some on the information desk, on the floors and some work in the office. We also went out on a field trip to East Kilbride, to the Museum of Country Life. The idea was that when people ask about visiting a place, you can actually tell them what it is like.
"I enjoyed the work and as time went along I felt I wanted to do more. It was very good at getting you back into the swing of things.
"At the end of the placement I was interviewed and got this job for the summer, which is great. It is a temporary contract and finishes in September, so I will have to wait and see what happens then."
Ms McGill is happy in her job and keen to stay, but wants to keep her options open. "I would like to investigate further study at some point, something to do with the arts, maybe a part-time course, an Open University course or other distance learning. But I am very happy working here.
"I would recommend the course, especially for those people who have an interest in the cultural arts," she says. "It's a very good opportunity to see how the venues really operate and to be able to work with the people there.
"I was really delighted to be able to do the course. It helped to put me on a different path that fits with my own interests and it is something that's suited to me," she says. "It has helped to give me confidence and has changed the course of my life."
Although Ms McGill has finished the Cultivate programme, that is not the end of her contact with the organisers. "I continue to provide support for the trainees for up to a year afterwards," says Ms Staveley. "In some cases I still visit regularly. I also continue to send off information about jobs to all of them. A few are looking into further study, so I am helping them with that."
The course has had positive outcomes for all of the trainees, even those who have not gone straight into employment, says Ms Staveley. "The students are learning more skills they otherwise wouldn't have had the chance to and have gained confidence. A lot of people had very low levels of self-confidence at the beginning and the change in them has been amazing."
The decision to continue the course has been widely welcomed. Pete Selman, head of inclusion at Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, says: "The cultural industries are an important part of the local and national economy and we are pleased to continue supporting this initiative."
Bruce Heil, assistant principal at Edinburgh's Telford College, says: "We welcome this opportunity to continue working in partnership with Edinburgh's cultural sector and look forward to widening recognition of the value of this training as a way for people to access work."
Access to Industry is also looking to expand the course into other employment areas, "the more creative ones such as graphic design, film, media," says Ms Staveley, "but it's very much at research level."
Cultivate co-ordinator Gillian Staveley, tel 0131 442 1042 www.accesstoindustry.co.ukcultivat.html