Edge to centre

28th March 1997 at 00:00
Maureen McTaggart sees a project that shows people how to create jobs for themselves using arts technology.

For years there has been talk of the wonders of technology - how great it is and how it will emancipate people, but so far this has all been just talk and nothing has actually come of it."

Jeremy Praill speaks from experience. He used to work for an Internet magazine, where he discovered that, without the right kind of training, it was difficult for a lot of people to find work in a world that has become increasingly reliant on computers.

Now, in his role as co-ordinator of a project that uses technology to help people into work, he has come across particular groups of people who face an even bigger struggle to break into the job market - young people who are disadvantaged by sex, race or disability.

However, he strongly believes that technology is the answer to their problems. It is a conviction borne out by the number of these hitherto "disadvantaged" men and women who have now secured, and are excelling in, technology-based jobs, having followed a one-year multimedia course run by Artec, an arts technology centre based in Islington, north London.

For seven years now, unemployed people have been benefiting from multimedia technology courses run by the centre, which was set up using money from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.

"Without this kind of training, those marginalised or excluded from the job market have nothing to look forward to but a life on the dole," says Mr Praill.

However, not every ADAC (Access to digital arts) graduate wants to go into industry. Many prefer instead to set up their own businesses or become freelance.

A European-funded scheme, co-ordinated by Islington Council, aims to help them fulfil their dreams by giving 20 to 48-year-olds advanced technology training before they enter the world of commerce.

"It means that rather than going straight out into the commercial world, they get a breathing space of a year to get established and build up a contact base," says Mr Praill.

The project, called Periphera, roughly translated from Greek to mean "from the edge to the centre", in many ways encapsulates the people who take it on. It is being run at seven centres in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland. Unfortunately, it cannot accommodate more than six users per year.

It is part of a new, three-year, Europe-wide EU Telematics (using computers in conjunction with telecommunications) scheme, designed to provide socially marginalised groups with the means to adapt and use new technologies to access the labour market.

The project aims to provide back-up support in the form of machines and facilities for emerging freelancers and small businesses to engage in multimedia production without the need to be based at any other facility than the ArtecPeriphera centres.

In practical terms, participants whose unemployed status is, for the first time, seen as an advantage, will be given access to expert tuition in Web and CD-Rom design on a full array of equipment including Macintosh computers, scanners, sound studio, video vision rig and cameras.

Mr Praill says: "One of the things we have discovered is that it is no good just having the technology. A full back-up structure to make the technology work is also needed."

In order to keep the six adults who are presently on the course and future participants at the forefront of the technology field, Periphera's co-ordinators decided they should concentrate on increasing the training in Web design.

"It is probably the simplest route to take into the multimedia technology world," observes Mr Praill. "Therefore, we felt it was prudent to emphasise the Web side of the business, bearing in mind that a lot of multimedia companies producing CD-Roms have folded and others have trimmed staff levels."

Crucial to the scheme is the commitment of the users of the facilities themselves. They have to agree to attend a minimum number of business training seminars, to have a good idea for kicking off a business or have a client lined up. These range from Web site designs for the deaf to the setting up of a DJ agency on the Internet.

Already one group, Banshee, made up of two previously unemployed women, has exploited the skills acquired from the ADAC course; the women have been commissioned by Sony Europe to design and implement an electronic magazine, or E-zine. They completed their own negotiations with the client, and are responsible for designing the Web site which will host the E-zine.

For users, the scheme has obvious benefits. Better training and support will help them to secure marketable skills. Furthermore, the pilot course has thrown up some interesting results which could have implications for the way the course is run.

"It is clearly evident that some people will go through at a quicker rate than others," says Mr Praill. "But several will certainly struggle if they lose the support of Periphera. Do we give the slower users another year, thus cutting down the numbers accepted from this year's ADAC course? Or do we push them out into the world of commerce?" Having launched the scheme in the UK, Artec wants to make the Periphera project self-financing by the end of the three-year funding period."We are still trying to decide how to make this possible, " says Mr Praill. "It would be a shame if we were not all-owed to continue to encourage those ADAC trainees who want to establish themselves as small businesses with a high level of independence. They are seen as key drivers in the multimedia industry, which thrives on innovation and new enterprise. "

The Periphera Web site is at: http: www.periphera.org

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