Give them a reason to get up in the morning

ALEX Murray, 17, skipped his last year at school. He found it hard and did not get on with his classmates. He used to lock himself into his room and panic. His parents were going through a divorce. The word future was not in his vocabulary.

But an educational welfare officer told him to forget school and just focus on himself. He was directed to the careers service. "They gave me options," he said. "But I thought college was too hard a push and I did not feel confident about going into work. I needed something to get me back into the swing of things."

That "something" became PETA, a not-for-profit association of employers dedicated to developing people and improving business performance through training and education. Alex has been improving his life skills since February, and has now transferred to the E2E programme run by PETA, in partnership with other training providers.

Already, he is feeling more confident. "I was a bit sceptical. It seemed corny and American but I feel like a much better person."

One of the first activities trainees do is to bake a cake. It is a treat, but they also learn about teamwork. It also introduces them to a cooker, usually for the first time.

Other activities include going into a library to find out about local history, going into a bookshop, getting used to talking to people and asking questions.

"The majority of people who come to us are not work-ready," said David Woolmore, PETA's work-based learning scheme manager.

"We want them to do things that people at work do, like get up in the morning.

"Every programme is individually tailored to a trainee's needs. Some people might be with us for up to 15 months, others for a few weeks. We progress them as quickly as possible."

Some will go on to take a Modern Apprenticeship, others will be helped to find training or employment. "For some people, just coming in every day is a success," said Jackie Cross, planning and communications director.

One day Anne Stephens found a questionnaire in her house, discarded by her son. She was moved to make up for his inaction and wrote to the Learning and Skills Council about his experiences.

He had, she wrote, been written off at school and had no confidence or self-esteem. All he had was a vague ambition that he would like to "fix things".

After a trawl through the Yellow Pages she found PETA. "They were marvellous and didn't patronise me because I didn't know the difference between a technician and a craftsman," she said.

Her son took an aptitude test, he was recommended to do a Modern Apprenticeship and a firm offered him one in refrigeration and air-conditioning, including day release at a college.

He enjoyed every moment, gained a national vocational qualification level 3, has a good job, and has mended the central heating system and tumble dryer at home. He reads air-conditioning manuals for pleasure, but finds paperwork difficult - hence the blank questionnaire - and anyway that is what mums are for, he says.

Mrs Stephens wrote: "I thank you on behalf of my son and myself for the work you are doing which helps him and others like him."

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