With thousands of people losing their jobs each week as a result of the worst economic downturn in decades, I am encouraged by the many stories I hear about how teachers and trainers throughout the further education and skills sector are making a positive difference to people's lives.
Waltham Forest College, for example, has been training unemployed people for jobs at New Spitalfields Market, the famous fruit, vegetable and flower market in East London. Former construction worker and father of two, Austin Wilson, 30, lost his job as a banksman with a building company in November and is one of the first cohort benefiting from a carefully designed and taught 10-week pre-employment programme.
Teachers cover generic skills such as team working, communication, literacy and numeracy, as well as sector-specific training, including stock rotation, import regulations and forklift operating. At the end of it, participants are guaranteed six months' employment.
The college works closely with local employers and the local authority's economic regeneration team, and has a team of tutors dedicated to supporting long-term and short-term unemployed people into jobs. These tutors have shown fantastic professional commitment and a willingness to go the extra mile, delivering courses on site and outside normal hours.
Stoke on Trent College teachers have a long history of supporting people who have lost their jobs in the once-booming ceramic industry, which now employs fewer than 10,000 people, about a quarter of the number employed 20 years ago. When Waterford Wedgwood went into administration in January, putting 1,200 jobs at risk, the college’s training and consultancy services team and teachers set up a series of programmes to enable them to find new employment in the area.
Teachers and trainers at the college have been instrumental in providing jobseekers with the skills to take advantage of alternative employment opportunities with new and expanding industries in North Staffordshire – in health and social care, logistics, retail, and business and professional services. Teachers have helped former employees of Waterford Wedgwood and of Woolworths, after it went into administration at the end of 2008, to find jobs with New Look, the clothing retailer, which is opening a distribution centre and a large store in the area.
These are just two of the many stories I have heard about the sterling work being done by teachers and trainers across the further education and skills sector – in work-based learning, in adult and community learning, as well as in colleges.
Almost all unemployed people experience some negative effects from losing their jobs and being out of work, not least because they miss six main functions that employment performs in our society:
Imposing a time structure on the working day
Involving regularly shared experiences and contacts with people outside the nuclear family
Linking individuals to goals and structures which transcend their own
Defining aspects of personal status and identity
Not surprisingly, most unemployed people judge the value and effectiveness of education and training in terms of whether it leads to a job. Even if it does not immediately lead to earning income, however, education and training can help by providing a time structure for the working day; contacts with people outside the nuclear family or friendships; links to wider goals and structure; a new status and identity, and a stimulus to activity.
Teaching and training for individuals can also lead to other substitutes for employment, such as voluntary and community work. Teachers and trainers help people acquire new skills and learn to create their own livelihood through self-employment or setting up a business or social enterprise. They also help unemployed people to move out of the isolation that often accompanies the loss of one's job.
Unemployment affects different people in different ways; understanding this helps teachers and trainers develop effective teaching methods and design suitable courses.
IfL members, over 185,000 teachers and trainers across the further education and skills sector, are making a difference to the growing proportion of learners affected by the recession. Increasingly, people have lost their jobs or fear never getting a job or being made redundant. Many teachers and trainers have current experience of helping learners train and retrain in order to improve their employment prospects in a cold economic climate. IfL looked back to the recession in the mid-1980s for guidance for teachers and trainers, which is still relevant today and can help shape how we respond to the needs of learners who are unemployed.
Turning to learning offers real advantages to newly unemployed people. Further education and skills teachers and trainers have every reason to be very proud of the valuable contribution they are making to individuals, communities and the nation.
For further information, please visit the website at www.ifl.ac.uk
Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the Institute for Learning, the professional body for more than 185,000 teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the further education and skills sector