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Employment project rewarded with huge grant

Emerging artist Graeme Taylor was helped by the Moving On transition support service to develop a body of work for an exhibition at Mareel on display until the end of August. Photo Moving On

THE PHENOMENAL success of a pilot project to help young Shetland folk with special needs find work or training has earned a Big Lottery Fund grant of more than £300,000 to keep going for another five years.

Since 2011, the Moving On Employment Project has helped almost 50 school leavers aged 16 to 25 find a future for themselves.

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It has had a remarkable 74 per cent success rate finding placements for its clients, while across the UK only 17 per cent of young people with additional support needs or an autistic spectrum condition like Asperger’s syndrome are in work.

This week the Big Lottery Fund rewarded Moving On’s transition support service with a £318,862 grant to employ a support worker to help 80 young people over the next five years.

It is one of just seven projects Scotland-wide receiving a total of almost £3 million from the Investing in Communities programme.

Project coordinator Kellie Naulls said three years ago they realised there was a group of young people who had received high quality support at school, but were slipping through the net when they left.

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This young man found work at a local supermarket through the project. Photo Moving On

With funding from LEADER and Shetland Islands Council they employed college leaver Beth Robertson from Walls to work with schools and employers to help young people find placements.

The project exceeded by 50 per cent its target of helping 16 people a year, and by the end had found full time work for one third and part time work for another third of its clients.

Naulls, an occupational health professional, said the success of the project came down to building good relationships with young people and their families, schools and employers.

“The key thing has been the partnership working with schools and employers. They are really, really supportive of what we do,” she said.

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“We work closely with schools to identify young people at risk of slipping through the net, and we work with employers to provide the support they and the young people need.

“I think we are lucky in Shetland because the employers are really on board with what we are doing.

“Every day employers are on the phone saying we have this opportunity and do you have anyone. We have a good word of mouth reputation – if we were not doing the right thing they would ken about it.”

The project now has a database of 350 employers willing to offer supported work opportunities. Beth Robertson left college with a BA in youth studies two years ago and describes her job working with these young people as “fantastic”.

This young woman took part in a work taster session at a local nursery to gain experience of the workplace. Photo Moving On

“It’s getting to ken them, finding out what they need, meeting them and building up a relationship and then helping them get into the workplace.

“We are speaking about really able folk whose only problem is meeting new people who just need you to help them make that first contact, because their social skills are slightly lacking or their confidence isn’t there.

“Then there are ones we provide up to six weeks in-work support, helping them learn the job until the stage where the young person and employer can manage.”

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Clients have been trained in health and safety, food hygiene and child care, gone to college to study vocational training or walked into jobs in offices, on computers, in garages and the fish market. “We have had some fantastic success stories,” 23 year old Robertson said.

“I have had ones that had turned night into day and by the time they have a work placement they are back into a routine – it’s helped all areas of their life.”

The Moving On team met first minister Alex Salmond during the Scottish cabinet’s visit last week who took a real interest in their story.

At a time of welfare reform and ageing populations, governments are very keen to find ways of making sure as many young people as possible are in work.

And it was the success of the project that persuaded the Big Lottery Fund to hand over such a large sum of money.

Its Scottish chair Maureen McGinn described Moving On as “making a big difference where it is needed most”.

Beth Robertson

Or as one local employer put it: “This service allowed a very talented young person to find a way forward with their life.

“They have demonstrated that they have a huge amount to offer our community and have many skills and talents that might never have come to light.”

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