Trainees: How a Sheffield scheme is giving young people a second chance

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Work. That four letter word which can define, destroy or delight. And if you’re young, not in education, employment or training, the prospects are anything but NEET.

This is where a Sheffield traineeship offered by the not-for-profit Source skills academy comes in. It started by offering 24 places, has 80 this year and will hit 120 by September. It is going places.

Natalie Doherty, director of quality, curriculum and innovation, explains. "We spend 10 weeks on soft skills like confidence building and negotiation and the last eight weeks on work experience, giving the opportunity to fulfil an effective work placement to get an understanding of the working environment. If they find its not for them, we can change it to find something they are more suited for.

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"It is for any young person who has made a conscious decision to get into the working environment.”

Source tutor Chloe Grainger and trainee Paige Jordan on receptionSource tutor Chloe Grainger and trainee Paige Jordan on reception
Source tutor Chloe Grainger and trainee Paige Jordan on reception

This is not the formal education route – school, college, university. This encourages critical thinking with an understanding that a job for life is unlikely, more like do three years and move on.

The traineeship has been successfully re-setting the futures of jobless 16-18s for over four years. Over 18 weeks, its tutors help students prepare for work, building confidence, improving maths and English skills, helping them gain qualifications and a professional attitude.

This age group was hit hard by the pandemic, making the traineeship more important than ever.

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"Online learning disrupted people and impacted programmes because face to face teaching could not be done,” says Natalie. “This is about pushing an alternative market where employers want experience.

Source trainee Paige JordanSource trainee Paige Jordan
Source trainee Paige Jordan

"The pandemic meant those not in education or training were pushed further away from the jobs market but it is a key market to engage with. Business is keen to invest with young people and work experience is like try before you buy. Two weeks is not long enough, it doesn’t given an employer a chance to see the person’s abilities.

"Traineeships give a longer placement to work for both parties and help them grow together. We’ve had some really good success stories.”

One success story is Paige Jordan, 18, from Brightside, who left Hinde House Secondary in 2019 with no qualifications.

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“I didn’t want to learn, misbehaved and often used to skip school. I thought being with friends was more important,” she says.

Natalie Doherty, director of quality, curriculum and innovation at The Source Skills Academy, speaks at the Great Northern Conference held at the Cutlers' HallNatalie Doherty, director of quality, curriculum and innovation at The Source Skills Academy, speaks at the Great Northern Conference held at the Cutlers' Hall
Natalie Doherty, director of quality, curriculum and innovation at The Source Skills Academy, speaks at the Great Northern Conference held at the Cutlers' Hall

“Looking back, I think class sizes were too big to give me the support I needed and I felt there was no point. At exam stage it hit me that I’d not done enough work, but it was too late.”

She did go on to gain a health and social care level 1 at Sheffield College and was re-sitting maths and English GCSEs when the pandemic hit and ruined her chances.

“The lockdowns made me think,” said Paige. “I was stuck inside with nothing to do for months and I realised I had to get my life on track.

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“My mum and dad have been unemployed and wanted me to have a better life and the chance of a job I would enjoy

Natalie Doherty, director at The Source, SheffieldNatalie Doherty, director at The Source, Sheffield
Natalie Doherty, director at The Source, Sheffield

“Dad found out about traineeships at The Source. I didn’t want to go, but he took me and I’m so thankful now.

“I began in September 2020. I was really scared. I I sat at the back, too nervous to speak. But the staff were really nice and treated me like a grown up. I realised it was my chance to start afresh.”

Paige gained Maths and English Functional Skills Level 2 and a digital skills qualification and enjoyed a month’s work placement with Balfour Carpets in Sheffield, a supporter of the Source’s scheme. She grew in confidence and ability and the company wanted to offer Paige a job, but sadly the January 2021 lockdown made it impossible.

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However its positive feedback impressed bosses at Meadowhall-based The Source so much, it set on Paige in the facilities team. Her work ethic has been so good she is also now one of the friendly faces on reception.

“In my role I meet people from all walks of life and solve queries all day long and now feel I could tackle anything asked of me,” said Paige, who is now on a Level 2 customer service apprenticeship.

“My parents have noticed a big difference in me and are really proud I’ve got somewhere. A traineeship is a really good stepping stone for anyone stuck like I was.”

The Source 
SheffieldThe Source 
The Source Sheffield

Paige’s tutor Chloe Granger said: “When Paige first came to sessions, she was very shy. She sat at the back and rarely spoke. But team-building activities brought her out of her shell and she progressed week on week.

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"She never missed a lesson and that shy girl disappeared. Her first work placement wasn’t right for her, but when we got her on one she was more suited to, she really enjoyed it and got great feedback.

“We had to undertake the last few months of her traineeship - the Next Steps phase - remotely during lockdown, but she coped brilliantly. She now has qualifications, more confidence and is happy to tackle new things. I can see how much potential she has.

“It is really nice to be able to help people like Paige grow to where she is now. That’s why I do this job.”

Natalie adds: "When people join us they don’t always understand the amount of roles which are available. They look at business administration, customer services and warehousing. The traineeship opens all sectors from finance to accounts.

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"It is difficult to know the jobs of the future, but the set of skills we are growing means we can work with the tech sector where they teach the coding and we teach how to work effectively in a team, their personality qualities. The programme is a discovery process rather than a lesson. That’s why we measure success on the outcome, the self-realisation that I can do this.”

There will now be four courses a year but The Source needs local businesses to give trainees work placements.

Already a number of local businesses have answered the call. One of them is Vulcan Engineering at The South West Centre, Troutbeck Rd, Sheffield, one of the world’s leading mechanical and encapsulated seal manufacturers.

Founded in 1986, its products are used in everything from dialysis machines to swimming pools, water sewerage plants to oil refineries - and the household washing machine.

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A number of its staff found their place in the company via the 1980s Youth Training Scheme for school-leavers.

One of them Louise Ebdon, group HR executive manager, said: “Work experience gave me a career in a sector I would never have known about and the fact that Vulcan showed faith in me when I was young is the reason I love bringing people into the business and developing them, an important part of my HR role.”

“Vulcan is currently training eight apprentices. It’s part of the company’s culture to provide people with the opportunity to prove themselves and that’s why we have signed up to The Source Academy’s Traineeship programme,” said Louise. “We really see the value in this initiative.”

Trainees have 110 hours of work experience with local employers over 10 weeks.

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Another success from this experience was trainee Aneeka Zarar, aged 18, from Broom, Rotherham, who impressed managers at Yorkshire Accommodation Bureau in Rotherham so much, they set her on as an admin apprentice when she qualified from her traineeship with The Source in December 2020.

A year later, on completion of her apprenticeship, she was given a permanent job.

“We got to know Aneeka well during her traineeship work placement with us and knew she had the skills to become part of our team. We were very pleased to set her on as our apprentice and help kickstart her working life,” said manager Laura Else.Aneeka said: “I was an angry person. I got into fights and I felt like my teachers had given up on me.

“Now I wish I could go back to school to show them I’ve got my life on track and tell other kids like me that it is possible to change.”

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At 16, with disappointing exam results, she had no clue what her future held.

Aneeka arrived at the YAB office on Wellgate in Rotherham in summer 2020 feeling scared and out of place: “I thought I’d never be able to do the tasks, but Laura, my manager, and two other senior members began training me and were patient and kind.

“After my first day, I went home thinking to myself that was a good day today. I want to learn more.

“I soon realised it was an interesting place to be. Property management is much more complex than people imagine and I learned more and more.

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“My traineeship and work placement actually changed me as a person. I got praise and that made me happy and want to try harder.

“At home I was an angry person. At school I didn’t want to work and got into fights. I’m not like that now. My mum has seen a big difference in me. I’m more mature and happy and I want to stay at YAB. I love the place and the people.”

The next traineeship course is in February. For details contact [email protected] or call 0114 263569 for a place, or to offer work experience.