A pound;100 wage packet and a stitch in time

10th April 1998 at 01:00
Nineteen-year-old Pauline Mackie from St Cyrus, outside Montrose, is more than happy to be stitched up by the New Deal. After seven months on the dole she has at last found a job that pays a decent wage and offers prospects beyond the first six months of the Government scheme.

For Ms Mackie, a trainee with Castlegate Upholstery in Montrose, the New Deal has worked precisely as ministers intended. A wage packet of pound;100 week in hand is more than she expected - and even that will be reviewed in three months. But what she relishes is the prospect of learning a specialist trade, even five weeks into the job.

She left Montrose Academy at 16 to go into hairdressing, and studied for two years at Angus College in Arbroath. "I liked it but I did not want to stick at it. Before the New Deal offer I was unemployed for seven months on benefit of pound;77 a fortnight. I'm quite hard to please," she says.

New Deal critics complain about compulsion. But Ms Mackie says: "I would never let anyone force me into anything". She wanted a fresh start in a trade that interested her. She turned down the secretarial work initially offered.

The Gateway took her through possible career options, writing CVs and interview techniques.

"It helped, but I didn't need it," she says.

Before Ms Mackie came Castlegate employed three people including the two partners, Roy Greig and Allan Murray. They made her an offer after a ten minute interview - her lively personality and willingness to learn sealed it.

So what attracted her? "It's different, it's a challenge and it's not a basic everyday job. There's not a lot of people who do upholstery. It's something I never thought about before," she says.

Now she is learning the trade on site, making sure stitches are executed on time in precisely the way demanded, whether on antique or modern furniture.

Her target is a vocational qualification in upholstery at the end of the period, providing the company can establish a structure with Dundee College. Talks are under way.

Mr Greig is delighted with the New Deal. Small companies find it difficult to train because of the pressures involved, he says. "But we were looking for someone we can train to our standards. The New Deal was attractive because it compensates for our time. In a small business on a tight financial budget, time is a key factor," he adds.

* Meanwhile, at the launch of the New Deal initiative in Glasgow on Monday a group of young unemployed people on a Prince's Trust three-month volunteer programme were eager to join the scheme. Contrary to some expectations, they are desperate to find an opening and hope the New Deal will provide it.

Shuna Fife, 24 from Glasgow, has been unemployed for four months and would jump at the chance of an opening in film or theatre. "It's a very tough business to get into," she admits. "Perhaps the New Deal would help to give us confidence, a direction."

Garry Ward, 21, has a National Certificate in landscape gardening from Anniesland College but no long-term job. He could not get a grant to take his qualification further. "The job you want you need so many years' experience. And if you don't it's difficult," he says.

Mr Neville wants another trade after trying landscaping. Like others he is confused by the details of the New Deal but willing to give it a try. The danger, he believes, is being shown the door at the end of the six month contract. "What's to stop the employer saying he does not want you any more? It sounds good but..." he says.

That "but" is the question ministers will be keen to answer over the next four years.

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