Neil Munro reports on the New Deal experience in Tayside, one of the United Kingdom's 12 'pathfinder' areas.
"Don't expect to be flooded,'' the principal of Angus College advises the rest of further education as the sector prepares for the Government's pound;3 billion New Deal programme.
John Burt says "a trickle will build up'' as trainees move out of the preparatory gateway period, which can take up to four months, and on to one of the four New Deal options for 18-24 year olds.
Angus and the other Tayside colleges, Dundee and Perth, are central to one option: full-time education and training. This is aimed at those with minimum or no qualifications and is the only option to last for a year. But FE can also expect business from the off-the-job training which is integral to the remaining options - work with employers, the voluntary sector and the environmental task force.
Angus College has set up a dedicated service to handle New Deal trainees. So far these have been in single figures. Four have started on the full-time education option, infilling existing courses. Another five are on the college's short "essentials'' programme, built around core skills, confidence-building and job-seeking techniques. Students can then pick from among the mainstream courses.
Dundee is the unemployment blackspot in Tayside, so the number of potential clients for education and training in Perth and Angus is unlikely to be large. Both colleges therefore expect infilling on existing courses to be the norm. This keeps college costs down. But according to Mr Burt it is also good for the students to be kept in the body of the kirk rather than made a group apart.
Joe Mutch, the training services manager at Perth College, says colleges involved in the New Deal must build flexibility into their programmes. "We have to get a roll-on, roll-off system going because people will be coming and going all the time,'' he says. Colleges are asked to provide a place within two weeks of the end of the gateway period.
Alison Ogilvie, student services manager at Angus, has special responsibility for New Deal trainees. She has been impressed by their motivation. "They know what they want to do, they are willing to taste a number of options and they genuinely wish to come off benefit," she says.
It helps that they do not lose out financially by coming on the programme. But they do lose benefit if they refuse a New Deal place.
Joe Mutch, the training services manager at Perth College, was also struck that the five trainees who came through his door knew their own minds. "We were slightly taken aback," he says. "We were expecting a more extended gateway induction, taking time to explore the various options."
The three Perth students who opted for vehicle engineering had been to college before and dropped out - two for financial reasons and one because he could not cope with the maths in his course.
Dundee has had 132 New Deal referrals to date. The college says that "initial notions that half of the client group would have none, or very few, formal qualifications were quickly dispelled as many candidates have already worked towards high-level qualifications".
The colleges set great store by their involvement in the consortium, led by Tayside Careers, which has been contracted to run the gateway process. "The importance of the gateway cannot be over-emphasised as a means of multiple interventions to help the student," Mr Burt states.
Mr Mutch agrees. "The major difference between this and past training schemes is the existence of an induction period which provides motivational input, interviewing techniques, guidance and tasters of work. It is also very much geared to the client. There is no attempt to say 'this is what you should be doing'. People have got to be sensible and temper any unrealistic ambitions. At the same time, many of them may have hidden depths which have to be brought out, encouraged and built on."
Steve Benwell, chief executive of Tayside Careers, says they are finding that clients require two or three interviews. "Our job is to break down all kinds of barriers for these young people, and that involves a lot of work. It's not just a matter of popping into the jobs centre for a brief chat."
Tayside employers are also relying on the gateway to deliver youngsters who are "job-ready", according to Harry Terrell, chief executive of the Dundee and Tayside Chamber of Commerce. This is particularly important to a group of people who have been jobless for some time and need to acquire good work habits.
Mr Terrell is concerned, however, that the colleges who are the main training providers are also running guidance services. "I'm not suggesting there has been any impropriety," he says. "But there is a potential conflict of interest. Our view is that the two roles should be split."
Mr Mutch insists, however, that all those involved in the gateway process are concerned to refer people to the most appropriate placement. "We ourselves have passed students to other colleges and other training providers," he says.