Courses for work are just the job
It's a graduation ceremony with a difference as a group of slightly nervous teenagers gather in Falkirk Town Hall to receive their certificates from Falkirk Provost Pat Reid.
They are among 100 young people from local secondary schools who have successfully achieved either the three-unit City amp; Guilds Employability and Personal Development Award or the five-unit certificate over the past four years. And they are all young people who had been previously disengaged from school.
What has made the difference in their lives are 16 to 20-week courses run by the transformation company Positive Qualities, which has traditionally worked with commercial companies to increase sales along with customer and staff satisfaction.
"We simply wanted to do something to help young people and we are now a provider of choice with local secondary schools," says lead trainer Liz Hoskin.
"Using Howard Gardner's intelligences profiling and Myers-Briggs psychologicial profiles, we work on the person first, helping the young people to work on their personal effectiveness."
This involves working on mindset, language, attitude, communication skills, key positive behaviours, self-esteem, confidence and motivation.
"Employability skills come next. This involves them in deciding what they want from a job and taking appropriate action to get the best chance to achieve their goals, while we also focus on language, numbers, problem- solving, teamwork, self-management and IT," says Ms Hoskin.
The pupils attend the Positive Possibility programme at PQ's premises in Grangemouth one day a week, making their own way there and taking responsibility for their attendance and behaviour (many have poor attendance and behaviour records).
"It opens the door to the adult world for them, making them more independent and better problem-solvers," says Iona Henderson, enterprise and education coordinator at Falkirk High.
"They are treated as employees, not pupils, and they have to learn to behave professionally to each other as well as to PQ staff.
"We use the course for winter leavers who have already sat their Standard grades and it's apparent they all enjoy it. We've never had any refuseniks. Their communication skills are much better and it's a pleasure to see how they progress through the experience, as it reinforces the lifeskills we teach at school," she says.
Depute head Stuart Kelly is equally positive. He says: "There's an improved engagement all round and I think the attendees like being treated as a discrete group.
"There's no doubt it suits their needs and it does offer, in our experience, a successful transition into work, training or college. For us, it's an absolutely positive experience and it does give the young people a `can do' attitude."
PQ is now an accredited City amp; Guilds centre, having successfully trained some 100 young people in the Falkirk area over the past four years.
"They offer a structured, quality programme and employers can see the rigour behind it," says City amp; Guilds business manager John Robertson.
"We would like to see the use of City amp; Guilds qualifications broadened out across Scotland, and working with Positive Qualities is a step in the right direction."
Liz Hoskin would also like to share the PQ programme with more people. "To share with more people and to feed back more to teachers, involving them in what we do more, even sharing lessons, would be great," she says. "Ideally, this approach should be integrated into the curriculum."
At present, PQ shares with their commercial clients, who often help out with the Positive Possibilities programme.
"Asda, for example, often has the young people down to its premises, where they go through interview techniques with them, and team leaders and HR people give the young people feedback on how they've come across. It's all about employability," says Ms Hopkins.
Alternative road to self-confidence
"I left school at Christmas after having done the Positive Possibilities programme. I'm now a trainee hairdresser, full time. I always wanted to be a hairdresser and the course helped me a lot. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot about being positive. It gave me more confidence.
"You were treated more like an adult and you had to sort things out for yourself.
"I never went to school regularly, but my attendance did go up after I began the course. I became a pretty regular attender.
"It was great meeting new people on the course and I enjoyed having to push myself more.
"I felt more in charge of myself and more responsible for myself and others, because of the teamwork. Once we all had to climb a 50-ft pine tree and you couldn't fail, because if one failed, then the team failed.
"So you couldn't let yourself down, because you were letting the others down.
"It was good having to challenge yourself. One night we had to do a forest walk blindfolded, just following a rope. Again, it was a team effort and you had to trust everyone else. You had to learn to trust.
"It wasn't like school at all. I found it more challenging and more fun. My attitude definitely changed. I used to give the teachers a lot of cheek, but I stopped that and I was never excluded again after starting the course.
"I've got attitude. I always had attitude. But now it's positive attitude."