Relaxed approach gives headstart

2nd November 2007 at 00:00

Douglas Blane finds new routes to vocational qualifications are easing adults back into work. Getting back to work can be tough for people who have been out of the market for a while. Colleges offer more pastoral and learning support than before, but can still seem daunting places. But, there are other options.

"I've been to college and I like this better," says young mum Karen Hendry at the Glenburn Centre in Easthall, Glasgow. "It's more relaxed and they give you more help."

Childcare Works provides flexible routes to vocational qualifications in children's care and learning or playwork at six centres around Glasgow. Stepping Stones for Families, which won the lifelong learning category for centres at this year's Scottish Qualifications Authority awards, delivers the project at the Glenburn Centre.

"The idea is to ease people in gently," explains Louise Bennett, project manager. "So we have two strands. Everybody starts on the voluntary option, with half a day working up to two days a week. After they've gone through vetting and disclosure, one of those days is work placement at a nursery, or an after-school club if they're doing playcare."

The second strand is the employed option. This calls for a full-time, 35- hour a week commitment from participants, with a six-month paid contract at pound;193 a week. Compared to finding funding for college, this in itself is attractive, but the advantages go beyond the financial, says June Robertson, vocational mentoring officer for Childcare Works. "It's a rolling programme, so they can start when it suits them. Some participants, who've maybe had unhappy experiences at school, wouldn't consider college because they don't feel educated enough."

The first six weeks of the voluntary option offers participants a range of personal and social development courses, such as team-building, time management, work ethic, interview techniques and confidence building.

Learning programmes are individually tailored, and confidence-building is a key aspect. Almost everyone absent from the labour market for a time has doubts and uncertainties. In addition, says Ms Robertson, a few students, whose ages can range from 18 to over 60, have had to endure difficult circumstances in their private lives.

"The voluntary option gives them a taster to see if they like it. It eases them in without too much pressure. It is an option we saw the need for, after the programme had been running for some time."

At first, only the employed route existed. But for some, this was too big a leap. "People would drop out, maybe because they were good with the written work and not the practical, or vice versa. Some liked the sound of childcare but discovered it wasn't for them. That wasn't good for the project or for those on it. They had tried something that had not worked out. They felt a failure. That's less likely to happen now."

Childcare Works is hosted by a range of organisations at different locations around Glasgow. Stepping Stones for Families has been active in day-care and family support in the east end for many years. The two organisations got together a year-and-a-half ago, says Ms Bennett, and since then 65 people have taken part in the programme at the Glenburn Centre, with 19 going through the employed option.

It is possible to obtain qualifications - the SVQ and the additional workshops - via the part-time vocational route, she says.

An appealing aspect of the course for Emma Baillie - one of many, she says - is that certificates are awarded for the workshops as the course progresses, and not just for the SVQ at the end of it. "I left school and went straight into a job when I was 16. So it is good to get these certificates."

Karen Hendry remembers a first-aid course which went into the subject in great depth, providing skills that she is glad, as a mum and a future childcare worker, to have.

For Rosemary Hemphill, the big step forward came with a course that complemented the efforts of the regular trainers, and the supportive atmosphere each session, by providing personal development skills that are useful in any situation. "I learned that what you see in front of you is not always true. You can get beaten down. They taught us to think about the things you can do - not what people say you can't do."

The award-winning programme benefits the community, says Ms Bennett: "This is an area of regeneration. By sending out qualified childcare workers, we are releasing more people into employment."

It also benefits the students, says June Robertson. "Some people need a lot of support, so it can be hard work at times. But it's also rewarding to see how they can develop. We have one woman who has gradually discovered her skills and wants to be a primary teacher.

Louise Bennett T: 0141 781 2277, E: louise@ssff.org.uk

Stepping Stones for Families: www.ssff.org.uk

Childcare Works: www.eastend.org.ukprojectschildcareworksindex.php.

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