Skills course makes a difference

By James Fuller

Unemployment figures are up again, but one Western Bay retraining programme is boasting a 70 per cent success rate in returning participants to work.

"It's really satisfying to be able to see people coming back into the workforce. It's great for them and it's great for the community," says Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason.

In total 310 long-term unemployed have completed the Chamber's Skills for Industry course over the past five years, leading to more than 200 being helped back into work. On average, participants have been unemployed for about five years.

The news comes as Statistics NZ figures show the Western Bay's unemployment rate climbed to 8.3 per cent in the December 2012 quarter - 2.6 per cent higher than the September rate.

Mr Mason said the four-week Skills for Industry course concentrated on upskilling people, often mothers looking to restart work after having children, and improving confidence.

Three weeks of the four-week course were "spent developing hard skills" completing Microsoft Office software training.

"If mums have been away for four to six years, technology has often passed them by. This gives them the confidence they can hit the ground running. Secondly, it gives the employer that same level of comfort," said Mr Mason.

Soft skills such as interview technique, CV preparation and improving confidence were also key factors.

"It's one of those insidious things. If you haven't had a job for a while your confidence erodes. We role-play the interview process, and that's a vital part of returning confidence and letting people see how others see them."

The chamber's CEO said it was about "setting yourself apart from other applicants". One way was through use of transferable skills.

"Any mum of three is an expert in time management. Don't underestimate the skills gathered from outside the workplace. It's about people becoming salespeople for themselves."

Organised through the Ministry of Social Development, the course is free and run with Work and Income New Zealand (Winz) candidates. Those who qualify can ask to be referred by their Winz case worker.

A post-course support period of eight weeks was included where job searches were assisted. Most graduates worked in areas such as administration, reception, clerical, data entry and retail work.

"It's wonderful to see people's confidence levels grow as they complete the course. Usually around 70 per cent of people find a job. It can be up to 80 per cent, depending on other things like the state of the economy at the time."

Kelly Lowe completed Skills for Industry in September 2012 and secured a job immediately.

"I had my second interview for the position on the last day of the course, a Friday, and started work on the Monday."

Mrs Lowe, who had been out of work for four months, said she got "heaps" from the course.

"My Excel skills were hopeless. One company I worked for had promised to send me on a course for two years but never did."

The mother of two from Greerton praised the Chamber's Return to Work Co-ordinator Derek Roser as "a real mentor".

"He's an awesome man and he really motivated us. Most of the girls on my course had been out of work for around a year and morale was pretty low. But we helped each other and it was a fun, positive atmosphere," said the 40-year-old, who now works in telesales at Trustpower.

She said the 70 per cent success rate was a fair reflection.

"Definitely, we were all different ages and many of us found work. There was a lady near retirement age and she got a job. The chamber has such a good reputation with companies and I'm proud to have the course on my CV."


- Bay of Plenty Times

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