Apprenticeships provide first step on career ladder for County Durham teenagers
Published by Kelly Elliott for Derwentside Homes Ltd in Housing and also in Communities
Derwentside Homes' new apprentices (l-r) Chelsea Borrowdale, Vanessa Atkinson and Megan Watson
A County Durham housing association is helping local teenagers get their first foot on the career ladder after employing several new apprentices.
Since forming five years ago, Derwentside Homes has taken on a total of 28 apprentices, providing valuable work and training opportunities at a time of high youth unemployment.
Now the organisation is welcoming a further five apprentices – two of which will be working for two of the association’s subsidiary organisations.
Among the new recruits is 17-year-old Megan Watson, who is carrying out a Customer Service Apprenticeship with Derwentside Homes.
She said: “I was studying business at college and knew that I wanted to work in customer services so this job was just what I was looking for.
“I really enjoy working with people and my role here involves answering the phones, dealing with customers’ questions and also helping with rent payments, so it’s perfect for me.
“I’ve learnt so much already and it’s great to be able to gain some real life experience. It’s reassured me that customer services is definitely an area I want to work in and I feel really lucky to have been given this opportunity, especially at the moment.”
Later this month, Megan will be joined by apprentice Electrician Lewis Hodgson and apprentice Plumber/Gas Fitter Jimmy Galbraith, who will both undergo training at New College, in Durham, while working at Derwentside Homes.
In addition, two more apprentices have been taken on to work for two community initiatives set up and run by Derwentside Homes.
Vanessa Atkinson is working as a Business Administration apprentice for The Store – a scheme run in partnership with Prince Bishops Community Bank which enables local people to buy new furniture and household items without getting into debt, while also encouraging regular saving.
Chelsea Borrowdale is carrying out the same apprenticeship for Social Housing Enterprise Durham (SHED) – a social enterprise set up by Derwentside Homes which offers work and training to local people by employing them to carry out a home and garden improvement service.
Chelsea’s role involves supporting the project’s Employability Coordinator, who helps local people back into work by providing computer training courses and help with CV writing, job searches and interview techniques.
Vanessa and Chelsea’s apprentices have been funded through an initiative run by the National Housing Federation and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in conjunction with local housing associations.
The aim of the project is to create apprenticeship opportunities within housing associations for young people living in former pit towns and villages, with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust funding half the wages of each apprentice.
Derwentside Homes is the first association in County Durham to receive funding through the scheme and has pledged that each apprentice will gain at least a year-long contract of work and finish their traineeship with a minimum NVQ Level 2 qualification.
Chief Executive Geraldine Wilcox said: “We know times are tough right now, especially for young people leaving school and looking for work.
“Our role is about much more than just providing a roof over peoples’ heads, and creating apprenticeships is just one of the ways we work to support our local communities.
“The apprentices bring many benefits to our organisation – they are enthusiastic and determined and are the workforce of the future.”
Gary Ellis, chief executive officer of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said: “With the current high youth unemployment figures, this programme is a real boost for young people struggling to find work.
“Former coalfield communities have been badly hit by the economic downturn and this programme is a direct response to help young people into work and create a strong platform for their future aspirations.”
Derek Long, Head of the North for the National Housing Federation, said: “Housing associations provide great training and employment opportunities for young people as they are embedded in local communities.
“We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and housing associations such as Derwentside Homes to provide top class apprenticeships across the country, including here in County Durham.”
Derwentside Homes is committed to supporting local people by creating training and employment opportunities, with apprentices currently making up approximately 13% of organisation’s workforce.
In addition, a further 24 people have been employed through SHED since February last year, all gaining NVQ qualifications.