Turning to the jobcentre to provide temporary cover has paid dividends for small companies, report Raymond Ross and Neil Munro
A GLASGOW experiment in lifelong learning, hailed by its creators as a breakthrough, might hold the key to overcoming one of the most stubborn hurdles of all - how to persuade small businesses that training pays.
"It's a win-win situation" is the confident verdict of Brian McKechnie, who runs the JobRotation project. The concept, which originated in Denmark and has been piloted here by the Workers' Educational Association, is now set to put down permanent roots.
The pilot involved nine small companies taking on unemployed people who were trained to their requirements. This enabled the companies to release their own employees for training while the new people did their jobs.
Mr McKechnie states: "After three months training, the client is placed as an additional member of staff. In reality this releases four or five other workers per week on a day release basis to go to college for further training. So, it has a multiplier effect. It is an idea whose time has come."
For those struggling to make inroads into the small business training field, that time will not come a moment too soon. The latest figures for national targets show that only 0.4 per cent of private sector companies employing fewer than 50 staff were awarded Investors in People recognition by March last year, compared with 17 per cent of firms with 200 or more employees. The respective figures for public organisations are 1 per cent and 42 per cent.
Professor John Ward, chairman of the Advisory Scottish Council for Education and Training Targets, said progress is "far short" of that required to meet the IIP target of 15 per cent of companies with fewer than 50 employees achieving recognition by next year.
The Glasgow pilot scheme allowed 14 unemployed clients to obtain work for six months during which time they got paid the rate for the job. Of those 14, 12 are now in full-time employment.
JobRotation released more than 100 employees from the nine companies to train over a six-month period. Some took external courses ranging from computing to first aid, others WEA courses in personal development, and a number followed SQA modular courses.
With funding from Glasgow Development Agency and the European Social Fund through Scottish Enterprise, pound;400,000 has been allocated for this year to allow upwards of 50 unemployed people to be trained, releasing a further 200 to 250 employees for extra training.
"The three basic principles are to help small and medium-size enterprises to develop training opportunities they could not otherwise afford; to help unemployed people access employment opportunities they might not otherwise get; and to help more people gain qualifications," Mr McKechnie said.
"JobRotation is certainly a new route to developing lifelong learning and to developing companies as learning organisations and it can do that in a way that is both realistic and affordable."
The project will now come under the auspices of the Scottish University for Industry which is to be officially launched next year.
Another advert for success is Olga Morrison, the project's development officer, herself a product of the new system. Unemployed after 20 years in a building society, Ms Morrison heard of the scheme while working as a community service volunteer.
"I was accepted and placed back at CSV after training in computing and communications," Ms Morrison says. "After my six months I got a job with the Glasgow Adult Guidance Network as a development officer before getting my position on the project."
Rework Solutions in Govan, which repairs circuit boards, was set up three years ago and now employs 15 people. It has taken on three JobRotation clients of whom two are still with it and one has found full-time employment at the Motorola plant in Bathgate.
JobRotation allowed the release of four employees for further training and one gained an SVQ as an assessor of performing manufacturing operations. "He can now assess people here and can train them to SVQ standard which is good for the company, good for the workforce and good for the customers," Patricia Munro, the managing director, says.
"JobRotation has been the backbone of our training. Without it we wouldn't be able to afford to take that on. The benefits are tangible. One of the trainees gained skills in word-processing and has been training other members of staff including myself."
Lorraine Craig, the personnel manager, said: "JobRotation allowed us to skill a 38-year-old man who had been unemployed for four years. He is still with us, as is another who is severely physically disabled. Any scheme which can skill these groups and gain them employment gets our vote."
Rework Solutions heard about JobRotation through the Govan Initiative, a community regeneration venture which put the company in touch with the WEA.
Ms Munro praises the WEA contribution which provided management support on people development and strategic matters. "They have been great," she said. "I can honestly say there has not been a downside to it at all."
Jim Woodhouse, a full-time trainee at Rework Solutions, heard about JobRotation from his jobcentre. "It's given me skills and confidence after being unemployed quite a while. It's also given me a job - and that has given me a purpose and a social life," he says.
JobRotation is being introduced into North Ayrshire. Further information can be obtained from the WEA in Glasgow on 0141 221 0003.