Category: Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship schemes providing opportunities and training to local people

Stepping onto the career ladder with an apprenticeship

One of the initial and key concepts of Gateway was to provide a supported step into work, and one of the first steps we offer is an apprenticeship placement.

We have a long history with apprenticeships. Some years ago we ran a large apprenticeship programme providing apprentices to a number of PCTs. Unfortunately, due to the way funding has changed, it’s now difficult to offer the qualification element unless you’re a larger provider. More recently we’ve been involved as the work placement provider and over the past three years we’ve benefited from six apprentices.

Our culture at Gateway is to offer a nurturing, supportive atmosphere for people to work and learn, and we feel that apprenticeships offer people a good start – a practical introduction to a career, giving people experience, pay and opportunity.

For people on placement, we offer a realistic view of the world of work, but we also recognise people’s potential and work with them to identify opportunities. We provide a supported work experience, to build confidence and resilience, and eventually give apprentices the reins to do as much as they can on their own.

During their work placement at Gateway, apprentices become part of the staff team. Some go on elsewhere, with work experience and references under their belts, but many go on to become full time employees with Gateway. Currently our staff includes a number of recent apprentices – Beckie and Shah work full time in our Lighten Up team and Sajida has become a full time Office Administrator, which includes the role of Interpreters Agency Administrator.

Sajida’s story

sajidaSajida did a 12 month apprenticeship with St Paul’s Community Development Trust, which gave her an NVQ Level 2 in Business Admin and included a work placement at Gateway. She worked in the Gateway office as an admin assistant, receiving full training and the opportunity to work in different areas of the business over the year.

Sajida says, “I wanted to do an apprenticeship because it gives you an immediate opportunity to work your way up. It’s a small step that can lead to a bigger step. You get paid while you’re doing it and you gain experience and confidence as you go along. It also means you’re in a good position when new job opportunities come up.

“The placement at Gateway gave me experience in many areas – not just in office admin and HR, but also interpreting – and it really built my confidence, which had been a bit knocked in previous jobs.”

After the apprenticeship, Sajida applied for the job of Office Administrator at Gateway, which includes the admin for our Interpreting Agency. Michelle Bluck, who recruited for the role, says:

“We had quite a few applications but Sajida’s application form was of a very high standard – it was clear she’d really thought about the role and how she would tackle it. She gave a flawless interview, with good examples of different work scenarios to show how adaptable she can be. Now she’s in the role, she’s definitely living up to that potential. She’s got good work ethics; she’s reliable, adaptable and sets a good standard. And the client feedback we get from the interpreters service is very positive – clients praise the efficient service, smooth booking process and professional admin support – and that’s all down to Sajida.”

Watch Sajida talk about her apprenticeship and how she’s getting on at Gateway:

Sandra and Joyce help to Make Health Work

At Gateway we are currently hosting a number of work experience placements.

Joyce and Sandra
students Joyce (L) and Sandra (R)

Joyce and Sandra, who are both studying at Newman College, are volunteering at Gateway as part of their college work experience. Joyce is studying Working with Children, Young People and Families, and Sandra is studying Youth and Community Work. Both are working towards an eventual career in social work.

At the moment, both students are working part time with Gateway’s EAST (Employment Access, Skills and Training) team. They found out about Gateway at a Volunteers Fayre and were soon recruited as Health Ambassadors in the Making Health Work project.

Making Health Work aims to help young people to have Healthy Conversations with a focus on work and employment. As part of this, we have been running regular Health Taster Days across the region,making-healthy-pizza with health-based activities and information to get young people thinking about their own health. The most recent Health Taster Day was held a couple of weeks ago at Dudley College, and both Sandra and Joyce were on hand to help out.

The event was busy, with Dudley College students and staff popping in and out throughout the day. Activities included “healthy eating on a budget” demonstrations, a “mocktails” stall and a sexual health stall, all provided by Gateway’s own Health Trainers and Pregnancy Outreach Workers; football skills from Street League, and the very popular Smoothie Bike, which got people cycling with the promise of a delicious reward.

smoothie-bikeSandra said, “It was fun – as well as working, we got to kick a football and get on the bike. It was a good atmosphere and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. It was busy for the whole day.”

Joyce said, “As well as getting some experience of working directly with young people, I’ve learnt a lot about my own health, too. The sugar table was a real eye opener, making me aware of just how much sugar is in the things I eat and drink every day.”

Both Joyce and Sandra say they chose to do a placement at Gateway because it seemed like a good fit for the courses they’re doing.

Joyce said, “I want to do social work eventually and Gateway offers a variety of roles that can give me some relevant experience. As well as Making Health Work, I’m interested in Lighten Up, and I’m hoping to do some work with the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service in a couple of weeks, too.”

Statement on “Help To Work”

As you know from our post last week, On the first rung of the ladder, we have recently taken on two trainees via the Help to Work scheme.

Gateway is committed to getting long term unemployed people into work and to do this we look at a number of approaches including apprenticeships and traineeships (including the recent Training To Care scheme). We regularly respond to requests to take on people on work experience, as we have the ability to provide a positive and useful introduction to work. We provide a variety of services, so we feel there’s a lot of scope for the people who come to gain a range of experience.

Help To Work is just one of the things we have looked at as part of our EAST (Employment Access, Skills and Training) department’s wider work.

We are aware that Help to Work has a negative image and that not all employers view trainees in the same way that we do. We decided to explore it anyway, because our experience means that we can give people on work placements the best possible opportunity under the circumstances.

We would like to stress that the people supplied to us on placement are additional to our workforce; they do not fill an existing role. What we do is to create roles and tasks for them, hoping that it will give them the broadest possible opportunity to learn new skills and find out what sort of things suit them. Furthermore, we do not do this for any sort of financial gain. In fact, there is a small financial cost to us, as people need supervision and training.

As the previous post mentioned, we’re very pleased that our original placements, Nikki and Keiran are now in a paid apprenticeship with Gateway.

As an organisation we pride ourselves on having strong ethics. We can understand people’s distrust of the Help To Work scheme. We shared it, to an extent, but feel that our track record of helping people into work over many years means that we can provide people with a positive and supportive environment. However, we will be reviewing our involvement and, as always, considering the views of our staff and clients, including our current trainees, very carefully.

On the first rung of the ladder

EDIT: we have had a lot of feedback about this story, both in the comments below and on social media. Please read our Statement on “Help To Work”, which we hope clarifies some points and answers some of the questions being asked.

In June we were approached to be part of the Community Work Placement Scheme.  The scheme, run by Seetec and part of the Department for Work and Pension’s Help to Work programme places people who have been long term unemployed into a work placement. However the stipulation is that the placement needs to make a clear contribution to the community, hence approaches to third sector and not for profit organisations like us who are already providing direct community focused services.

The Help to Work Programme

We were well aware that the Help to Work programme when announced had stirred up a range of feelings (the most contentious issue being that the continuation of JSA payments were reliant on individuals signing up and fulfilling the work placement on a voluntary basis) however like it or not the programme was being implemented and therefore what was needed was a range of good quality placements – where people would be given a warm and positive welcome into work.  As an organisation that has a strong track record in providing Apprentice/Trainee and work experience opportunities it seemed a natural fit to be involved.

Three weeks later Kieran and Nikki joined us and began their six month placement (or less if they were to find work in the meantime).

“We hoped we knew a bit of what to expect having regularly welcomed people who’ve been out of work for a long while or in many cases where we’ve been their first job”,  explained Michelle Smitten, Manager of our Employment Access Skills and Training Department.  “We understand that being out of work eats away at your self belief, the constant job searching and application process, putting yourself through the interviews (if you’re lucky enough to get that far) and then the knock backs!  It’s tough.  Then there’s the nagging feeling as time goes on that your skills are getting rusty”.

We knew there would be a need for nurturing but what was different about these placements was that the people weren’t being given the same element of choice whether they came or not. “We knew this was going to be more of a rigid approach” says Michelle.  “Usually people come to us because they choose to and see the potential of what work experience can bring but nurturing someone who doesn’t want to be hear could be more tricky”.

We needn’t have worried though!

Our experience has been a really positive one as both Kieran and Nikki have been enthusiastic and receptive from the start.  “Yes they’re both doing this on a purely voluntary basis and they have to follow a fairly strict set of rules, such as working a certain number of hours but there’s never been a hint of – I’m being made to come but don’t really want to be here” says Michelle.  In fact we’ve been so impressed with their work ethic and their ability to accept the change and adapt to new ways of working skills that we’ve already decided we want this to be more than a six month arrangement.

“We had one of those lightbulb moments” jokes Michelle.  “I suddenly thought how about taking them on as Apprentices, then we both gain.  We get to keep them as a designated resource for 12 months and they get to complete a qualification, get a bit more money and the holy grail – to be able to say they’re employed!”.  So we spoke to St Paul’s Community Development Trust who provide us with our other Apprentices and are always on the look out for promising new recruits.  On Monday Kieran and Nikki became fully fledged Apprentices.

“It doesn’t stop there though” says Michelle.  “We’re now in a position to make the two placement opportunities available again to the Community Work Placement Scheme”.


Kieran and Nikki
Here they are – our brand new Apprentices Kieran and Nikki

A bit about Keiran & Nikki:

Kieran had left school with a good range and level of qualifications and had gone onto college to do a Business Administration course. Throughout the time at college he’d been looking for work though.  “I applied for lots of jobs, it wasn’t just a handful it was ten’s!  I got a few interviews out of it but it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere”.

In Nikki‘s case it was a little different; “I didn’t get on that well at school but hoped college would suit me better.  I did a few courses and then the Job Centre suggested I try work placements.  One led me into a cleaning job but no sooner had I started than they said the work had dried up and laid me off”.  Although both desperate to work they found themselves back at square one and due to having been claiming benefits for some time they were classed as long term unemployed, so found themselves on the Help to Work programme.

“I was offered a choice of placements so opted for Gateway, I wasn’t given a lot of detail about the organisation but what I did have I liked the sound of “, explains Kieran.  As for Nikki; ” I was really nervous that first morning” she says; “I knew so little about what would be expected of me but I had liked the people I met at interview and there was a nice feel about the place”.

In the past weeks Kieran and Nikki have sampled various elements of our work.  They’ve taken and processed referrals, they’ve helped with all the preparations for our Gala and now they even take a turn on reception which has meant getting to grips with a telephone switchboard and learning everyone’s names.  “It was nerve racking at first,” says Kieran, “but I’m learning to relax a bit more”.  Nikki adds, “by the end of the second week I was feeling much more settled.  I’d learnt more about what we as an organisation do and made a few friends”.

So how did it feel when they were offered an Apprenticeship? “It seemed like something out of the dark”, responds Kieran. “It was unexpected as I’ve never been given an opportunity like this.  I was so pleased and happy to take it”.    And what of the future – well the next 12 months are a given but Kieran responds, “I think I’d like to carry on working here if possible but if not I can take the skills I’ve learnt somewhere else”.  “At the moment I feel the same,” adds Nikki, “but I guess I now have options and I should keep them open”.










Supporting people to work means supporting people to better health

We know that, employment is linked to good health. Statistically, if you’re employed, you’re likely to be more healthy.

In 2006, DWP commissioned a scientific evidence review of the links between health, work and wellbeing – Is work good for your health and well-being? An independent review (pdf). It concluded that:

…Work is generally good for physical and mental health and well-being. Worklessness is associated with poorer physical and mental health and well-being. Work can be therapeutic and can reverse the adverse health effects of unemployment.

Gateway was originally set up to help people into formal training or employment – and so to better health. This pre-employment training provides a “gateway” into employment – it’s what gave our organisation its name.

These days, our Employment Access, Skills and Training (EAST) department continues to work in the areas of unemployment, and supporting people to better health is still at the heart of everything we do.

What does EAST do?

EAST works with communities to enable people to work. We do this by offering work experience and paid employment, alongside vital support and training, to people who may not otherwise be able to access it. For example, in February we wrote about our Training To Care course, which offers funded opportunities for those who want to get into care work.

Going from being out of work to being in work is a big lifestyle change. It’s not easy to go from being unemployed for months, sometimes years, and straight into a job. So we support people to manage this change.

Many of the people we work with have some really useful and potentially transferable life experiences, but come up against barriers to work. They may not have everything an employer is looking for: the right qualifications, a certain amount of work experience, or employer references. Some may not have finished education; some have low literacy levels; some might have a police record. A lot of the people we see – especially younger people – have just never really learnt how to work, or developed a “work ethic”, yet.

So we support people to overcome these barriers. We help them to demonstrate their skills and experience, and to gain the work experience, qualifications, references and good work practices that they need to become employed – and therefore healthier.

We do this via our own programmes and working with other organisations. For example, Pop Up Talent offers young people new ways to look at work – to help them unearth hidden talents and to see potential employment in a broader, more positive way.

The “Skills Escalator”

The EAST department covers four main areas: Volunteering, Traineeships, Apprenticeships and Paraprofessionals. These provide a training and employment pathway – also known to us as the “skills escalator”.

This allows people to enter at any stage of the pathway, and receive training and support to move up – as Farzana did when she trained with us before becoming a paraprofessional Pregnancy Outreach Worker, then moved on to begin a degree course in Nursing.

Put very simply, we see people in communities who have a wealth of life experience … and we see employers – particularly in the health sector – with needs. So we work to put these together. People think that to work in health and social care you have to be a doctor or a nurse, and that you need to be “a professional”. This isn’t true. Actually, we can’t think of a job that isn’t available in the health sector – from hairdresser to helicopter pilot!

An apprenticeship with Gateway: Beckie’s story

This week, we thought we’d share the story of Beckie, who joined our apprenticeship scheme as a shy school-leaver, but has quickly gained bags of confidence and progressed to a permanent and responsible role at Gateway.

beckie“As a young teenager, just leaving school with all my GCSEs, I was very enthusiastic about starting and kicking off my career, but I couldn’t seem to find myself a work placement,” Beckie says. “After making a number of applications, I headed down to my local library to do some research and it was here I came across a leaflet for Gateway Family Services.

Beckie applied for a role as Lighten Up Apprentice and came for interview. Although she wasn’t successful, those who interviewed her thought she showed potential so, as we knew there would be other opportunities, we got back in touch and offered her some pre-employment support.

“After completing a few workshop training sessions I was put forward for an apprenticeship with the EAST department,” Beckie explains. This time she was successful so she began her induction and was trained in a number of key areas.

“I was moved around the company to support different departments,” she says. “This helped greatly in building my confidence and becoming more aware of how to work successfully in a business environment.”

A shy start

Beckie was 16 when she started work with us. She’d left school the previous July and had never worked before, so coming to us was a whole new world. She was really quiet in those first few weeks and struggled to talk to people. In fact, at the start, we revised the jobs we gave her as some just felt too stressful for her, due to her nervousness. So, for example, we took her off answering the phone.

However, she did well on the administrative tasks she was given – she was quick and precise, and the feedback from her tutor in terms of her progression on her Business Administration course was good.

Over time Beckie took on more and more. One of our departments was particularly busy so she helped them with their admin work which eased their pressures and gave her more confidence, as she was working as part of a team. After a while she started doing a bit of work on the phones and eventually started answering our main switchboard calls.

“Since then I have supported all different areas of the company, which has really helped me to progress my skills,” says Beckie. “I’ve also successfully obtained an NVQ Level 2 in Business Administration, and am now doing my Level 3.”

Beckie completed her apprenticeship last summer and received the certificate for her NVQ level 2 Business Administration at our Gala. Around the same time she was placed with Lighten Up full time. Lighten Up is a telephone support service, so this shows how far Beckie had come.

Just before Christmas last year Beckie applied for, and was appointed to, the role of HR Administrator, and started her new role at the beginning of January.

“I couldn’t have done this without all the help and support I received from Gateway,” she says.

Apprenticeships help everyone

We are dedicated to supporting our apprentices, because apprenticeships benefit everyone.

As well as giving people experience and knowledge of the working world, we try and address the needs that aren’t directly work-related, too. For Beckie, this was her confidence. She had a mentor, Chelsea, who gave her some direction and was on hand for a chat about anything, work-related or not. We made sure that all of the roles we gave her would allow her to work to the same goals – not just learning about office admin, but building her confidence and gaining life skills.

Apprenticeships like Beckie’s really help Gateway too.  Office Manager Cheryl says, “because they need to learn a wide range of skills, apprentices are not restricted to one role, so we can place them where they are needed. For Beckie, this meant that she could get experience in a variety of office admin roles, whilst continuing to learn and build her confidence in the areas where it was lacking.

“By the time she got the HR Administrator job, Beckie had a good knowledge of all areas of the organisation, its processes and policies – and she already knew the staff, so she was an ideal fit for the role.”

We’re really proud of Beckie. She’s ambitious and works hard. She’s made the most out of the opportunities she’s been offered and as a result she’s quickly progressed.

Strictly Not Rehabilitation

Our new out-patient service offers cardio out-patients and their families the chance to work with a “befriender” to progress their recovery  plan.

The befriender will be a first contact point for any aspects of the recovery  programme and could assist with  going to the shops, getting to the planned dance classes.

Part of Strictly is an invitation to attend a weekly dance class – whether to improve your dancing skills (!), meet with other patients or one of our  team, or simply socialise.

The Strictly dance session will be held weekly, at Selly Oak Methodist Church in Langleys Road .  At this class the patients and their partner/friend, if you choose to bring one,  will be invited to get up and dance. Dances will be available that don’t need a partner.  Professional instruction will be provided! If people don’t want to dance and just prefer to just sit it out that’s fine too. The idea is to have fun!

The programme is free and will last 12 weeks during which you will be asked to complete questionnaires so we can get an idea of how the programme is doing.

Here, one of our volunteers, Jim, explains why he has decided to give up some of his time to volunteer within his local community after being made redundant

Gateways skills training and apprenticeships offer employment opportunities

We work in areas where unemployment is well over 10%. There are over 1.2 million unemployed young people aged between 16 and 24 in the country as a whole and in our region there are 178,000 workless people, and 208,000 working age people with no qualifications at all.  For people without qualifications or experience, finding work is more than tough. Training and employment opportunities are really important, and we work to provide them.

Some of the people who’ve tried our courses talk about their experience.

We help give local people the skills they need to find work, and whenever we can we recruit local people to work in their local area.  They help others to live healthy lives, at the same time they have the chance to work. Training in skills for employment and apprenticeship schemes provide more opportunities to overcome barriers to employment.