Starting people down the right path and giving others a second chance

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“I didn’t know much about computers, but I stole plenty of them.”

That statement certainly grabbed MSP Jamie Hepburn’s attention when he attended a presentation by Falkirk Council’s Employment Training Unit (ETU) in Grangemouth on Tuesday.

The Scottish minister for employability and training, joined by Falkirk Provost Pat Reid and Baillie Joan Coombes, heard the background to the ongoing journey to employment of a number of ETU clients, but the hard-hitting story of ex-offender Danny Hamilton made one of the biggest impressions.

Danny, who is in his late 40s, was referred to the ETU and the council funded employability programme through its partnership with Cyrenians, a third sector charity which aims to reduce re-offending and rehabilitate through skills and training, and the Criminal Justice Service.

Working with the unit to help build confidence and employability skills, Danny is now ready to hit the jobs market.

He said: “I’ve spent most of my life in jail. I had never sent a text in my life or sat at a computer – but I stole plenty of them. Now I’m learning about computers and without the support of the staff here I would have probably returned to crime.”

Falkirk Council spends £5 million – £2 million from its own funds and around £2.5 million from various external sources – on employment and training support for around 1000 people every year.

Pamela Smith, ETU manger, said: “We have to bid for funding from the Scottish Government and would obviously prefer not to have to bid every year and have a bit more of a collaborative relationship.

“We fund clothes for interviews and clothes for work and on some occasions we can pay for a makeover for people. We build up a relationship of trust with people so the money to pay for these things goes straight into their bank account.”

Lynda Ross-Hale, Cyrenians development officer, told Mr Hepburn that everything the Cyrenians and the ETU do to help people into employment is geared to each client’s own particular situation.

She said: “Some people take longer than others, but the service is very much designed to meet the needs of the individual.”

The minister also learned that offenders can devote 30 per cent of the unpaid work hours they received from the courts in their community payback order to attending the ETU and gaining employability skills.

One person who did just that is Ashley Young, who initially attended because she thought it would be an easy way to cut her hours.

She said: “I just thought it would help get a couple of hours off. I grew up in the care system so I never did much with education – but after a day at the ETU I was buzzing.

“I enjoyed it right from the first day I started.”

Through support from the ETU and Cyrenians, Ashley gained SVQs in employability skills and employment responsibilities and was able to move onto the Fresh Start programme at Forth Valley College to gain more qualifications.

The ETU is not just about giving people a second chance, it is also committed to setting young school leavers on the career path that is right for them.

Former Larbert High School pupil Callum Sinclair (19) is just one of the young people the ETU has helped get started.

He said: “When I left school I didn’t know what to do. College or University was not the sort of thing I wanted to do. I was working on the roofs with my dad – it wasn’t my kind of thing.

“When it’s pouring with rain it’s the last place you want to be.”

Having been told about the ETU by his teachers, Callum took part in the assessment process, which indicated he had the aptitude for business administration. He went on to gain employment with Falkirk Council development services.

The fear of failure often puts people off, but the ETU assessments, like the one Callum went through, were likened to an eye test because it is not a case of whether someone passes or fails, it is about trying to find the level they are at and work from there.

Apprentice of the Year finalist Lee Tomaszewski (20) was able to get work experience as a plumber and realised that’s what he wanted to do. In 2014 he successfully completed Falkirk Council’s recruitment process to secure a four-year plumbing apprenticeship and now works in the council’s building maintenance department.

He said: “If I was to look back five years and ask myself where I would be, I would never have thought I would be here. I’m just looking forward to the next five years.”

Bernadette Brennan (23) is now using the people skills she developed at the ETU to help others

She said: “I tried college but I didn’t like it – I like doing more practical things. I was in a care home when I was younger, so I know my future is working with young people in care homes.”

One of the remarkable stories to emerge from the presentation was Rebekah McFeat (20), who is working with the ETU and the Salvation Army on developing her core employability skills while acting as a young carer to her five-year-old sibling.

During the course of the presentation it was stated the ETU would like to have more involvement with NHS Forth Valley, but the organisations has so far decided to pursue its own apprenticeship scheme.

Mr Hepburn said there were a number of things he would take away from the day and “reflect upon”.