In these days of recession, how do you persuade employers that, as well as having the technical expertise, you have the ability and knowledge to fit into the workplace? A Ready for Work certificate perhaps?
This is the hope of Tracey McIntosh, who recently completed an engineering course at Dumfries and Galloway College and is now looking for work. Tracey was one of 48 students from the college who last year completed the online course in preparation for going into the workplace.
"I had never worked before and had been bringing up my family," says Tracey. "I had no qualifications, not even from school, and the certificate was the first one I had ever been given. I am quite proud of it."
The Ready for Work programme is an online self-study course, run by The Training Foundation. Students log on and work through 12 modules designed to prepare them for the workplace. For students like Tracey, it can teach them about issues such as workplace bullying, or health and safety, as well as build up technical skills working with the internet module.
"I was initially scared of using computers," recalls Tracey, "and at first it was a bit daunting, but I soon found the programme easy and learned a lot from it.
"The drugs and alcohol module was interesting, as was the data-protection module. The health and safety module was really easy and informative. A lot of it was common knowledge, but there was still plenty I didn't know."
Robert Brown is curriculum leader in business, computing and sport at Dumfries College, and was responsible for introducing the course. "Before I introduced it, I went through the whole course in order to view it from the learner perspective," he says.
"Sometimes the language or what they have to do can disengage the students, so I went through it and applied for my certificate at the end. When I got this nice glossy certificate, I thought the course would be good for the students' CVs."
Ready for Work is used by the college as the final stage in preparing the students for work. Mr Brown says: "During the year, we cover CV-building, setting goals and targets, raising employability skills and so on. Then around MarchApril they start this online Ready for Work course."
"Really it is there to facilitate and support, and I say to them - you may think you are ready to go into the workplace, but then you have diversity, you have culture awareness, you have drugs and alcohol policies - a lot of things which the other units don't go into."
It also helps build computing skills. "Obviously it is raising their awareness of employability, but they are also navigating through a programme where they are using the IT skills they are being taught from their IT unit as well."
From a lecturer's point of view, the course provides an excellent tracking system. "It is designed to give the student an instant score," explains Mr Brown. "The database registers it, and I can sit down with the student, ask how they are getting on, and they can bring up the grade and which units they have completed."
The combination of traditional lectures and online courses works well. He says: "The great thing about the programme is that it can be accessed from any computer, so the students can work independently. There is the flexibility, students can leave it and come back to it."
For Tracey, the programme proved a lot easier to complete than she imagined. "I found e-learning a lot easier than I thought I would," she says. "There were fewer distractions than there would have been in class, and I found it easier to sit down and complete it at my own pace, rather than sitting in a lecture. I really enjoyed it and, although I have still to get a job interview, I am hopeful that the Ready for Work certificate will make a difference."
Craig Hughes, 21, sports and recreation student
The programme took me three weeks to complete, as I did some at home, as well as in class. I liked the Making Email Work For You module, because in my previous job I never knew how to send emails and how it worked.
I found the drugs and alcohol module interesting. I knew a little bit about drugs and alcohol at work and knew you weren't allowed to take any at work. But the course went through things, looking at what happens in a situation with someone drunk in the workplace or dealing with drugs abuse, things like that - what you should do and how you should go about doing it.
There was always a tutor in class, so if there was anything we didn't understand, we could ask. I learned a lot from all the different parts of the course, things I didn't know about or had just heard about but didn't know what they were. I thought it was a very good programme.
Lee Donaldson, 34, sports and recreation student
Because of my age, I have been ready for work for a number of years, so a lot of it I knew, but I still learned a lot, including about email. I already understood a bit about data protection but got to find out more. With the Thriving in Diversity module, it was good to see it in more depth and see the objections through the dialogue.
The whole course was well presented and easy to understand. It took about two weeks to complete, and afterwards I helped some of the others, so went over it again. I think it will impress employers. It gives you a bit more knowledge as well as experience.