With another five years of austerity in play and huge savings anticipated from the welfare budget it is more important than ever that housing providers recognise the role they can play in helping people (back) into work. At St Leger Homes of Doncaster (SLHD) we are strengthening our core offer to tenants and forging links with influential partners and local businesses to enable us to do this.
We have become more than just a landlord for our tenants by providing learning and job opportunities for those who want them. We are helping to break down the barriers to employment, creating self-esteem and confidence, providing opportunities for relevant and recent work experience and references.
We do this through our World of Work (WOW) scheme, which is open to our tenants (and their family members) who have been unemployed for six months or more. Scheme participants speak highly of it and recommend to family and friends. WOW was developed in February 2014 and goes from strength to strength. By May 2015, 53 trainees had completed the WOW scheme – 33 found employment. We held four academies, two fencing schemes, and the participants undertook 3,918 learning hours and gained 129 qualifications. The success rates are fantastic but what is more exciting and rewarding is the change it makes to individual lives: we have some wonderful success stories.
So what is WOW and what does it offer?
First of all, WOW is delivered by SLHD staff, in partnership with Doncaster College, Job Centre Plus, and a range of local employers and social enterprises.
WOW starts with a two week ‘ready for work’ course at Doncaster College where participants are supported to create a CV, complete application forms, and practice their interview techniques. They also receive some training in health and safety and the use of ICT and customer care skills. They are encouraged to develop team working skills within the cohort (usually 10-12 people), and receive a certificate on successful completion of the course.
“We have become more than just a landlord for our tenants by providing learning and job opportunities for those who want them.”
Participants are then offered six to eight week work experience placements of one or two days per week to fit their individual circumstances and so as not to impact on benefits. The work experience is sometimes within SLHD, where existing staff have received training in how to be a workplace mentor to support the trainee, or sometimes with partner employers. At the end of the work experience participants get a personalised reference to help them in their job search. Throughout WOW activities, participants are encouraged and supported to apply for jobs.
A further element of WOW is our ‘support and learn’ project where trainees have a six month employment contract delivering fencing and environmental projects across the borough. In addition to paid employment, support and learn participants receive support and mentoring to help move them on to permanent employment and also undertake a level one NVQ in construction skills.
Engaging with tenants through WOW provides an opportunity for them not only to improve their quality of life and their prospects of securing permanent employment, it also enables them to contribute more to the wider community, and through the fencing scheme, to support regeneration in their neighbourhoods.
Housing providers have a key role to play in helping tenants into work, the rewards are many and varied: challenging negative stereotypes and promoting positive images of social housing; adding to the sustainability of local areas through investment in the local economy and through physical regeneration projects; but above all, it is about helping people make a real difference in their lives, for themselves and their families.
Isn’t that why we come to work? What could be better?