UNEMPLOYMENT has hit the north east hard. Even in the heyday of full employment, the area has never had it good. Poor transport links combined with a lack of amenities have conspired to make outlying towns like Banff and Buckie a no go area for potential employers.
This predicament has created a desperate situation for many of the area’s young people who, despite being willing and able, find it difficult to find a job.
So when Community Jobs Scotland launched earlier this year, it was just the boost the area needed.
Following on from where the hugely successful Future Jobs Fund left off, CJS filled the void for both employers and employees by providing thousands of jobs in everything from construction to office administration, sports coaching and even more specialist professions such as graphic design.
Run by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition, it provides a six month job primarily for 18 to 24 year olds who have been unemployed for six months or more with an onus on work-based learning.
However, in areas such as the north east where jobs of any kind are few and far between, the scheme has been hugely popular, not just with the longer-term unemployed in the area but for young graduates too who are desperate for work experience after leaving university.
It has enabled them to get their feet on the first rungs of a career ladder while, for the longer-term unemployed, it has re-engaged them with daily working life.
Alan Busson of Gordon Rural Action can vouch for the success of the scheme. His charity runs a welfare and advice centre which last year dealt with nearly 14,000 issues which resulted in retrieving or saving clients over £3.1m.
It also has an expanding social enterprise comprising two charity shops which recycled or re-used over 10 tons of textiles and 70 tons of furniture, bric-a-brac and books last financial year.
Busson believes CJS has provided crucial support for the area and has given work to those who otherwise may have had to have waited years to find work.
“We’ve taken on two CJS employees and while this might not have made much of a dent in the unemployment in the area it has been crucial for us and for the young people we’ve taken on.”
Busson says demand had been “huge” for the advertised posts but the scheme has also been a boon for small third sector organisations because it has not only supplied them with “hugely enthusiastic and capable” employees who are highly qualified but just lack experience.
“The perception has been that highly qualified young people are best placed to get work but nowadays that’s not the case,” he says.
“Experience is crucial and without it your CV is empty. So getting six months work experience, especially in the north east where jobs are more scarce than other parts of the country, is regarded as a real opportunity.”
And it swings both ways. Unlike FJF, Community Jobs Scotland is a programme exclusively run for and by the third sector. While creating opportunities for the unemployed, it also creates capacity within voluntary organisations enabling them to expand often crucial services.
“That’s been our experience,” says Busson. “We rely on volunteers and paid staff but of course funds are limited. So CJS affords us the opportunity to create greater capacity and reach out to more people in the area through our services. Sometimes just one extra staff member can make a big difference to the operation.”
It’s not only rural areas that are benefitting however. All across Scotland the scheme is proving to be a huge success, emulating – and at times surpassing – the achievements of the Future Jobs Fund.
The figures speak for themselves. Three months on, CJS has created 1,088 opportunities for unemployed young people across all of the 32 local authority areas in Scotland, with another 912 to be made available by March 2012.
The demand from third sector organisations to participate has been immense. To date, the scheme has received applications from 469 different organisations wanting to create over 4,000 jobs in the Scottish third sector – double the number that can be created under the current funding.
It has been particularly effective at creating a diverse range of opportunities, including those in growth industries, such as green jobs and tourism, as well as providing a vital foot-in-the-door to non-traditional and highly competitive industries such as marketing, design, media and the arts.
Employers already involved range from large national organisations to small community projects and in the latest round of applications, bids were received from 130 new organisations wanting to get involved, including Action for Children, Prince’s Trust, Pearce Institute, Sense Scotland, Voluntary Arts Scotland, Aberdeen Cyrenians and Caithness Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
With such a diversity of employment opportunities from across the third sector, it means the scheme has been effective in finding employment for those who are deemed at the farthest reaches of the labour market, such as those with disabilities and behavioural problems
Furniture Plus, a social enterprise based in Fife, has a proven track record in getting people jobs who have barriers to employment.
It employs young people from troubled backgrounds, those who have disabilities and people with mental health problems.
Daniel Rous, the managing director, knows it’s not easy employing this kind of clientele. But through CJS both the organisation and local people are benefitting.
CJS employees work well says Rous because for many it’s the first time in their lives they have had a job.
“The scheme has been a runaway success,” he says. “You’ve got to remember that some people will never get jobs because of their background. But this is not training or volunteering – it’s real employment with a wage at the end of the week.
“Many of our employees thought they’d never get work but they have. And that has given them hope for the future where before there was none.”
Donna Mackinnon, director of employment services at SCVO, says Community Jobs Scotland’s success hinges on the quality of opportunities offered to young people across all parts of Scotland.
“We are not only seeing huge interest in Community Jobs Scotland jobs from voluntary sector employers but also from young people too.
“Young people know that CJS offers a valuable opportunity to get experience, new skills, a wage and a crucial step on the career ladder.”
This is backed by the Scottish Government whose spokesperson said the scheme was an important part of the government’s economic progress.
“Community Jobs Scotland is providing support to young people at a critical time in Scotland’s economic recovery and underlines the contribution that the third sector can play in the delivery of public services.”