Unique training course preparing Cork's young adults for the working world

A unique course in retail skills is being run in Blackpool and is helping young people outside the mainstream education system to develop transferable skills. Roisin Burke visits the centre to find out how
Unique training course preparing Cork's young adults for the working world

Jacqui Jones, Retail Skills Course Coordinator with students (seated) Chloe Caulfield and (l to r standing) Lauren Meehan, Cameron Eckersley, Gabriel Byrne and Casie O’Donovan in the training area. Pic: Larry Cummins.

PREPARING young people for the working world and further education is the whole premise of a youth training centre located in Blackpool.

The Blackpool, Glen, Farranree Community Training Centre located in Blackpool, takes in 16 – 21 year olds, offering them a range of courses from catering, computer applications, woodwork, hairdressing or retail skills.

Jacqui Jones is the programme coordinator of the Retail Skills course run at the Northside centre.

Mrs Jones said the course is in high demand, full to capacity at present, with a number of people on a waiting list.

“Retail skills has been here three years, it’s an in-demand course, there is 95% progression from the course, either to jobs or further education.”

Chatting about who the course might suit, Jacqui said the course is held in high regard by those who don’t fit into mainstream school.

“Some would have Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate or nothing, the normal school system is one fit for all.

“Sometimes it doesn’t fit people and that is what we find with a lot of trainees, that normal school system doesn’t suit them.” Outlining the difference between mainstream school and the training centre, Jacqui said the latter is a training environment, based around practical skills while enhancing personal development.

“The school system just doesn’t suit them for one reason or another, so this is a training environment.

“They learn practical, versatile and adaptable skills and they get a level four qualification, which is equivalent to the Leaving Certificate (QQI).” 

The Retail Skills programme coordinator said if the students don’t have a Junior Certificate, they are taught fundamental maths.

Jacqui said, one of the main things she teaches is communication and presentation.

Jacqui Jones, Retail Skills Course Coordinator. Pic: Larry Cummins.
Jacqui Jones, Retail Skills Course Coordinator. Pic: Larry Cummins.

“We have a work experience module and another part of the course is I get them to look up jobs that they would like and look at the skills needed and find their pathway to get that job.

“That’s a major thing for the young person, preparing for a job application.”

Teamwork is another major aspect of the course.

“We actually do a teamwork module and they pick a place they would like to go on a trip and we go there. But they all pick a different trip and they map out how to get there, costs and what we would do and they present it to the class and everyone votes on which trip they want to go on.”

Graduates from the course have gone on to a range of different careers including, Musgraves, Marina Market, Jacobs on the Mall, airport security, fashion retail and pharmacy sales.

LEARNING PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Jacqui said that kids that aren’t confident in school avoid going in, but most are at home in the training centre.

“It’s all about learning personal development in a training environment and they get on very well.”

Jacqui said, “When they come in first, some aren’t very open communicators and my approach is informal communication.

“I have a positive persona, that is picked up by osmosis by the students. My main thing is they are safe and they feel happy in here. If they like it here, they will continue to come in here. We don’t give out, we try to help and approach conflict gently.”

Jacqui said there is a great sense of achievement for her when she sees one of her students flourishing.

“There is no greater reward for me than to see them progress to what they want to do with the confidence and skills they didn’t have when they came in here.

“Their personalities flourish in here, and it’s not from me, it’s the team. They will get their major award, but the confidence they develop here is the main achievement.”

The course works on continuous enrollment, there is a circular curriculum, so new trainees start where everyone else is.

“It’s a two-year course, running for 11 months of the year, they get four weeks' summer holidays in July and a week off for Easter and Christmas.”

Aside from Jacqui’s tutoring, there are also resource instructors, who are another support to the young people and outside experts who come in to do seminars on things like CVs and interview skills.

“It’s a multifaceted learning environment that promotes and supports personal development alongside academic achievement, you really can’t have one without the other.”

As well as developing a dynamic skillset, Jacqui also helps her students to decide their next steps.

“We have a profile for them, programme skills, and we sit down once a month, talk to them about their goals, we hold them accountable and let them know help is available.”

LINKS WITH SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES

Jacqui said she works to guide them to where their attributes lie.

“I ask them what would their dream jobs be? What skills do you need? How can you get there?” 

The course coordinator said the trainees in their lives outside the centre are always providing positive feedback regarding the impact of the course on the students.

While people can apply to attend the training centre, the centre’s youth advocate also has links with all Cork's schools and colleges which have a very positive relationship with the training centre.

“We are not in competition, the schools nominate people they feel might fit in to our training centre, we have never been in competition, we have a relationship with the schools.”

Retail Skills trainees (from left) Chloe Caulfield, Lauren Meehan, Cameron Eckersley, Gabriel Byrne, and Casie O’Donovan in a teaching room.	Picture: Larry Cummin
Retail Skills trainees (from left) Chloe Caulfield, Lauren Meehan, Cameron Eckersley, Gabriel Byrne, and Casie O’Donovan in a teaching room. Picture: Larry Cummin

As well as developing professionally, academically and personally, the students find friendship at the training centre.

“They build bonds, everybody gets on in here. It’s a very friendly environment. This is a happy safe environment, they are all told at the start. It’s all about open communication.”

The instructors are constantly upskilling, in areas such as mental health training, sexual health training through Foroige. This gives instructors the tools to support the young people in anything they might need.”

Jacqui said one of the hardest things is letting the students go.

“We actually have to start cutting the strings about four months before they go. I start saying ‘I’ll miss you when you are gone’, because they don’t want to go and I’m sad when they move on, but a lot of them come back to see me and you see them getting on with their lives, they come in with their babies, etc. It’s a very rewarding job for me. It comes with huge challenges at times, but the rewards outweigh the challenges.”

Chloe Caulfield, 18, has been on the Retail Skills course for a year and she is full of positive things to say about the course.

“In school, you wouldn’t want to get out of bed to go and here you would be running down the road to come in here. They don’t treat you like a child.”

Chloe, who wants to be a Special Needs Assistant said the teamwork module has been very useful.

“I left school in fifth year, school wasn’t for me. I just found it hard, I needed help and I wasn’t getting it. I was behind everyone in class, I really struggled but I enjoy coming down here. The whole place is fantastic.”

Casie O' Donovan, 18 has also been at the training centre for a year.

“I want to do childcare. I like working with children”.

Casie said she likes everything about the course.

"There are a lot of very adaptable skills, work experience, dealing with chaotic, hectic environments, it's all very useful when dealing with kids.”

Casie said she is hoping to go on to the College of Commerce next year.

Lauren Meehan, 20, is finishing the Retail Skills course in June.

“It was a brilliant course, I’m going to miss it when I go. I came here straight after school and now I’m prepared for the working world, I can use a till, deal with customers, lots of adaptable skills.”

Lauren is going into a job while looking at a college course in youthwork.

“It’s just an idea for now. I’m going to work in retail for a while.”

Lauren said she is interested in helping others.

“This centre really helped me and I would like to help others the same way. I have a broad skillset now to progress and move forward.”

Offering insight into the secret to the success of the centre, Lauren said: “I think it's that they don’t treat us like kids, in here, they treat us like adults, like equals. They are very understanding.”

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