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Unemployment taken care of

You were made redundant when the economy first started to slide. You've been unemployed for more than a year. You left school at 16 with little in the way of qualifications, and you're in your late 40s. Gloomy about your prospects?

According to Dundee College, there is no need to be. Its Health and Social Care Academy has just had its biggest intake, 60 students, most of whom were unemployed. Job prospects after the nine-month, full-time course, which incorporates a placement, are good. More than 70 per cent of last year's students are employed or undertaking further study.

The course, run in partnership with Dundee City Council's social work department, NHS Tayside and independent care provider Gowrie Care, was identified by HMIE in its recent report as sector-leading in terms of innovative practice. "This academy has had a significant and successful impact on its learners," says the June report.

Students are guaranteed a job interview on completion of the SVQ health and social care (level 2) course, and most places are funded through an education maintenance allowance or bursary.

With an ageing population, the course came about due to a recruitment need for carers and healthcare workers.

"NHS Tayside and the city council identified a need to train the workforce of the future," explains Julie Grace, the course head. "We're giving them a nationally-recognised qualification which allows them to take up support worker jobs. It's a vital role."

Graduates are employed as social care officers, assistants in health care, on wards, in physiotherapy, in theatre, in occupational therapy and radiography, as well as other support worker roles. The course covers values and principles in care, communication, IT, mental health issues, clinical and employability skills. These include self-awareness, interview techniques, job applications, CV writing and sessions with the partners on what they look for in an employee.

The academy begins with core training in first aid, health and safety, infection control, moving and handling, and food hygiene, making students "job-ready" and able to take up their placements from week seven of the course.

"Employability is a big part of the agenda," says Mrs Grace. "Students go out two days a week on placements, so it's a real mix of theory and practice."

The students, aged 17 to 50-plus, are largely school leavers, who require only three Standard grade passes, unemployed adults and returners, but Mrs Grace says enthusiasm and life experience are considered over qualifications, and the right person will be accepted on the course, regardless of their grades and work background. An enhanced Disclosure Scotland check is compulsory.

Many applicants have experience caring for a relative. Lachlan Hynd, 50, was made redundant from global technology company NCR after 20 years building ATMs at the company's Dundee factory, and is caring for his mother, who has dementia. "There are no manufacturing jobs anywhere," he says.

"Along with my brothers, I'm looking after my mum. My wife's a nurse, my son works in a care home and my daughter has a psychology degree, so we're all involved in care work."

Lachlan works as an assistant support worker at Gowrie Care for his placement. "I'm working with people with learning difficulties," he says. "I'm hoping to get a job at the end of the course and thought I'd pick something I'd enjoy."

Rebecca Gibson, 18, graduated during the summer from last year's academy. She is now working as a healthcare assistant in neurosurgery at Ninewells Hospital and plans to begin an adult nursing degree at Dundee University next September. "I loved my placement - orthopaedics," she says.

"Quite a lot of the girls got the job from the ward they were on. College got you ready for going into a healthcare setting. You're learning about what patients deserve, like their dignity, remembering people are individuals, then you're going out and doing it."

Maria Robertson, 43, another of last year's graduates, is now doing an HNC in social care. Unemployed after taking a payoff from a store assistant job, and with her daughter having started secondary school, she felt it was time to do something for herself.

"I'd thought about it for a few years but I'd never done anything about it," she says. "The college had a stand in the Overgate (shopping centre), and one of the ladies spoke to me about it. Doing the course gave me confidence to go further."

Once she has completed her HNC, she will be qualified as a practitioner. But Maria hopes to go on to a social work degree, after her placement with family support charity Home-Start. "You go into families' homes and help them," she says. "I want to help somebody."

The advantage from an employer's perspective is the long placement, says Chris Robb, area manager at Gowrie Care. "This is an entry-level course for people with no experience or knowledge of care. Other courses may have all the academic training, but what they don't have is the practical hands-on experience. We are continuing to compete for an ever-decreasing pool of staff."

The reputation of the academy is beginning to spread. "More people are offering to take our students on placements," says Mrs Grace. "It's a credit to the students, because they're representing us."

Meanwhile, Dundee City Council is now offering guaranteed interviews for students on its PDA educational support assistance course, because of the success of the scheme in the Health and Social Care Academy. It will offer employment opportunities as support for learning assistants and classroom assistants in primary and secondary schools.

"It's opening doors for them," says Mrs Grace. "Building confidence is the biggest thing. There are people who might have been out of work for some time."

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