Public sector ‘steps’ up to provide work placements

PACEMAKER BELFAST  Photo Colm Lenaghan

IN three years, 558 people from Limavady, Coleraine, Magherafelt and Cookstown combined gained lasting employment after being enrolled on the second phase of a government work scheme for the unemployed.

The second phase of ‘Steps 2 Work’ involves participants taking part on a work placement scheme; sometimes with local charities but also with private firms, without receiving a wage.

Some travel expenses are paid, for instance, when bus tickets are presented to officials running the Steps 2 Work scheme participants can be reimbursed. Participants often risk losing their unemployment benefits if they refuse to take part.

In three years, 558 people from Limavady, Coleraine, Magherafelt and Cookstown combined became employed for at least 13 weeks after taking part in the Steps 2 Work scheme.

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry has spoken out to encourage the public sector to continue to offer work placements to the unemployed.

Minister Farry said: “My Department is committed to helping the unemployed find and sustain employment. Providing work experience opportunities in the public sector will improve participants’ employability and increase their chances of finding and sustaining employment. I have written to all Ministers and local Councils asking them to support the Steps to Work programme and Youth Employment Scheme by offering placement opportunities that will help in meeting our Economy and Jobs initiative.”

The Department of the Environment has to date filled 100 work experience opportunities.

Dr Farry continued: “The Department of the Environment deserves praise for providing unemployed people the chance to sample the world of work, develop employability skills and gain work-related experience. I would encourage all public sector organisations to support this initiative.”

Minister Attwood said: “I believe that work and training opportunities should be built into the life of government departments and public bodies. That is why I instructed DOE to provide placements – we are currently offering 223 placements including Graduate Acceleration Programme (GAP) opportunities and this figure will be increasing to 251 placements. The contribution made by my Department to this rewarding programme is welcome. Those who have taken part represent a wide spectrum of the unemployed – the long term unemployed, post graduates and young people seeking a first job.

“I know that the placement experience has been worthwhile and motivating for participants – some of whom have gone on to secure employment or return to education and training. I welcome this gear change and I hope DOE will help drive it forward.”

Shan Feet Giet (age 23) who has been working in DOE as part of the Steps to Work programme said: “This work experience is proving invaluable to me – I have gained many new skills and experience in an office environment. I am more confident going forward that I will find a job with my new skills and experience and I would encourage other young people to get involved in these types of initiatives.”

The Steps to Work programme is the Department for Employment and Learning’s main adult return to work programme which offers a range of opportunities including work experience, training and employment. The work experience element is an integral part of the programme and is aimed at providing participants with the opportunity to develop skills and increase their chances of finding and sustaining employment.