independent

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Focus on the future

In the second of a four part series on local training initiatives, Anne Campbell talks to the two women behind the successful Job Focus scheme at Partnership Court

Donna Evans Murphy (left) and Tess O’Donoghue
Donna Evans Murphy (left) and Tess O’Donoghue
The most recent group of participants in Job Focus who received a Major 4 QQI award in Pathway to Employment

She's a success story', says co-ordinator Tess O'Donoghue about her colleague, Donna Evans Murphy. The women are sitting in the neat upstairs office of Local Training Initiative Job Focus at the Partnership Court in Dundalk, talking about how it all got started.

Donna is a former participant in the Job Focus programme, which was initially established as Moving On and was based in Muirhevnamor. She is now Assistant Co-ordinator of the project, which reaches out to people who may have left school early or who are looking for a way to kick start their education, training or employment. She said: 'Around 2000, I was a young mum, I was 17 and I was wondering what I was going to do with my life. I heard about the Moving On programme, which offered free childcare to those taking part and thanks to the project, I was taken on as a Classroom Assistant before becoming the Assistant Co-ordinator of the programme and I'm still here 11 years later!'

Recruitment is Tess's background and has spent 22 years of her career in this business. She also completed a degree in Human Resource Management. She has been with Job Focus since 2008, having completed a Train the Trainer course and loves being involved in adult education.

Tess and Donna complement each other very well. Tess says: 'Recruitment is a great background to have because I know what industry and business are looking for in employees and we can tailor the programme we have at Job Focus to suit employers and also the needs of the community'. And Donna knows what it's like for the course participants to take a leap into the unknown, starting a new course, putting oneself on a new path and meeting new people.

The people who take part in the eight month course with Job Focus come from a range of backgrounds. Tess said: 'The education system has failed some people. We are providing education here, through the Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) but it's not school. We take a more holistic approach and concentrate on people in a one-to-one setting.

'It's not about monitoring their every move in the class. But we pride ourselves on offering a QQI Major Award at Level 4 in the programme, as well as eight weeks work experience that can work out really well because some of the people are taken on into employment straight away. We ask people to find the work placement but if they can't, we can step in but then they don't get the choice about where they get to go.

'We have good relationships with a number of businesses in town, including Servisource and Multihog to name a few and I use all the contacts I have to help get work experience for the people taking part in Job Focus. The Local Employment Service (LES, our chairperson and the RSTC are very supportive too'.

The programme used to be 12 months long, but they now have to do it in eight months but they are also offering shorter term summer programmes that offer people who are thinking about committing to the Job Focus programme an opportunity to sample what it's like. Because of cutbacks to the sector over the last number of years, Job Focus doesn't have the budget to widely advertise its project until recently.

In addition, Tess and Donna deliver 80% of the programme to participants themselves, with three external tutors. In addition, they look after all the administration and accounts for Job Focus.

The women's attitude creates a good atmosphere. Both Tess and Donna feel they are investing in the participants, by spending time with them and supporting them both in their personal lives and enabling them to successfully achieve certification through the programme. In some ways, they are like good employers, expecting people to step up to the mark, but rewarding them when they do. If needed, people get counselling for matters going on in their lives, referred to outside agencies if necessary and the Co-ordinators have an open door policy where people feel comfortable coming to them with problems and issues that may not necessarily have to do directly with Job Focus

Participants are incentivised to take part in LTIs through a training allowance, but paying for childcare remains an issue for some. It is perhaps for this reason that a lot more young men have been taking part in the programme over recent years, with many aged in their late teens and early twenties. However some participants have been older men, who have found their trades redundant and are seeking to start again.

It can create a good dynamic in the group, with the older people having a calming influence on their younger peers, while the younger people help energise their older counterparts.

There is, the women say, a good feeling around the place and often participants come in early to have a cup of coffee and chat before the formal course begins for the day. The programme can also cater for people from different ethnic backgrounds, as long as the level of English required to follow the programme is there. Donna said: 'We have people here aged 17 to 35 mostly, and every age in between. We focus on communications and functional maths, as well as literacy and computer skills, such as the Microsoft suite and applications', and, crucially, Tess says, there is an emphasis on writing for a business environment, with a focus on memos, letters and reports needed not just for the world of work, but also for further education. There is career planning and personal development which looks at why choices are made and how better decisions can be taken, in personal and professional life. If participants want fork lift driving or manual handling, or even cookery, that can also be arranged. The programme has lasted so long and has been so successful because of the dedication of the people who run it and the buy-in from the participants who can be, like Donna, another success story.

If you are interested in the next Job Focus programme, starting in September, contact 042 9354532 or email: tess4word@gmail.com or donna4word@gmail.com.

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