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Second-chance saloon

Colleges are helping unemployed young people get back on course. Ngaio Crequer reports

"WE'LL give them a chance, and see if they can come good." The local employer runs a car-window fitting service and is preparing to interview an 18-year-old who had dropped out of thesystem and never worked.

Helping to bring the young man back on course is York College of Further and Higher Education which, with the backing of North Yorkshire Training and Enterprise Council, runs a special centre for those who have failed either at school or in their private life.

"These are people who did not attend at school, might not be living at home, could have a criminal background and are not attractive to employers," said Chris Swindells, co-ordinator of the Lycett Centre. "We try to address their problems, whether they are social, legal or psychiatric. With the help of the social services and other agencies we give them stability and once they have solved the problem of where they are going to sleep at night we get them to think about what is going to happen to them in the longer term," he said.

Tutors working within the National Vocational Qualification options scheme start to ease the young people, aged between 16 and 18, back into education, training or work. They work with job centres and local employers to find placements. Sometimes staff trawl through Yellow Pages to try to find suitable openings.

They attend college one day a week and spend four days with a employer, but many prefer work without training. Placements tend to be with smaller companies, such as shops, garages or offices. "The employers are very friendly and helpful, but we are dealing with a very unstable group," said Mr Swindells. "If I were an employer I would be reluctant to take on some of our trainees.

Last year, seven trainees went on to full-time work, six to other further education courses, seven either left the area, became ill, went to gaol, or became pregnant, and 19 remained unemployed. "About half of them moved into something more positive, but these were all people once seen as unemployable, " he said.

Helping the jobless get back on course is only part of the wide range of ways the colleges help the community and in particular the business community. At High Peak college in Buxton, Derbyshire a group of researchers are working with their local TEC on a labour market survey. This aims to identify skills shortages in small and medium-sized enterprises on the one hand, and among the unemployed in another. The findings will be used by college managers to inform development of the curriculum.

The research has been used to develop a database of employer information. They had attempted to identify: the skills shortages among local companies with less than 50 employees; the difficulties being experienced with recruitment and retention of employees; the strengths and weaknesses of local businesses; the opportunities and weaknesses of local businesses; the opportunities and threats to small businesses created by national and local changes; and the training and employee development needs.

Using the results of the survey, the college is auditing its provision to compare it with the skill needs of small and medium-size enterprises and identify gaps in provision and further develop the curriculum.

A college spokeswoman said: "Individual contact with the survey companies has proved a useful tool for marketing to employers, raising their awareness of the usefulness of labour market information, and identifying individual company training needs."

In another project, the college interviewed 75 unemployed people, including some of those who are not registered unemployed and are usually more difficult to target. Those not registered unemployed are a potential target group which the college is not current)y serving.

The research is aimed at undertaking an audit of the unemployed and to identify barriers to education and training. The database collected on unemployed individuals and employers can be used to set up introductions between appropriate individuals and employers, as well as identifying unemployed people who would like formal assessment in core skills.

South Trafford College and computer giant IBM have recently launched a training and development programme for the latter's graduate employees in IBM's Help Desk Division in Sale, Cheshire. These staff support IBM users of products throughout Europe and have to be skilled in languages as well as computing.

A training analysis carried out jointly by the college and IBM staff identified three core training areas - customer care, information technology, and management and supervision - and a pilot programme was recently successfully completed.

John Stanley, of IBM, said: "One hundred people will benefit from the scheme before the end of the year, and this is only the start. This will give staff at all levels a chance to gain qualifications while benefiting the business and leading to advancement with IBM."

Each employee has a career plan within the company. The college will be customising delivery of NVQ programmes at levels 2 and 3 in the core areas, in addition to assessing candidates and training IBM staff to take on the key role of assessment in the workplace. The programmes take anything from a few months to two years to complete. Much of the work is done at the workplace, while staff are at their desks.

Dr Rob Baker, principal of South Trafford College, says: "This scheme shows that IBM acknowledges that developing people is not only good for the individuals, but also for the company and the economy. Our core business at South Trafford is in unlocking potential."

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