Supermarket trainees take the fast track off the scrap heap
With its established training in national vocational qualifications in retail and customer service, New College Durham has entered the Dragonville Partnership and taken on the bulk of the 240 trainees.
Les Nevin, the college's training for employment manager, believes that guaranteed work is the key to the scheme's success. "The north-east has the lowest staying-on rate for education in the country, and Durham has the lowest rate in the area. A lot of people would not have entered education or training without the job guarantee," he says.
As well as basic skills and confidence-building, trainees are gaining certificates in food hygiene, health and safety and a welcome host accreditation.
Of the 152 learners who have completed their training, 140 have opted to work towards NVQs, with New College Durham as their assessors as part of a sustainability programme for lifelong learning.
Margaret Harrison could see no further prospects in manufacturing after being made redundant from a factory so she turned to retail. She will have a 30-hours-a-week job in the children's department when she completes the training. Two other members of her family have also joined.
"It's an opportunity to come off the scrap heap," says Dee Dodson. "Age is against you when you take voluntary redundancy."
Ms Dodson left the Post Office and level 4 NVQ training when her job was threatened with radical restructuring. When she takes up her job at Tesco she will have the opportunity for fast-track training in retail.
But the scheme has caused the college some problems. Although most of the money has come from youth training, work-based learning for adults and the New Deal, not all the trainees qualified for funding and many had transport difficulties.
The college had also already hit its recruitment targets for Further Education Funding Council finance. But because of its commitment to the scheme, the college decided to absorb the extra costs.
Despite the problems and the uncertainties of future funding under the Learning and Skills Council, the college has decided to build on the good practice developed with Tesco and extend it to getting the unemployed into work with other major retailers. A "catering and hospitality routeway" is planned for the future.
"Helping so many people into employment is one of the most rewarding things you can do," says Les Nevin.