A young woman from Castlewellan, who has recently completed the College Connect programme at South Eastern Regional College (SERC) is keen to share the tremendous positive change the course has made to her life.

Jodie Toland (20) completed the mentor-led College Connect course following the catering and Hospitality stream. The programme also included literacy and numeracy entry level 3 and Jodie completed food hygiene Level 2.

Jodie heard about College Connect following on from Job club at SERC. Jodie said, "I have always had an interest in food and the hospitality industry so I thought I would give the course a go. I have really enjoyed the whole course. It has turned my life around and now I feel confident that I have some direction in terms of a future career.

She added, “I undertook a placement at SERC’s Downpatrick Campus Restaurant in the McNeill Room. I got great feedback and support from the lecturers and catering staff whilst I completed the course which spurred me on to do my best. One of the best parts of the placement was being part of the team serving up the SERC Friday Fry. I got to meet a lot of different people and it was great to be part of the team.    

“I learned to make a whole new range of foods including scones, soups, cakes, stir fry, and I even picked up barista skills. It has been a real eye opener and I have loved learning about food and the new skills I have picked up. I plan to come back to SERC to do a Level 1 or Level 2 in one of the catering programmes.

Jodie said, “I would definitely recommend College Connect to anyone looking a fresh start. The course has been a fresh start for me and I feel more mature and confident now that I have completed the it successfully.  I feel that College Connect has been my second chance at education and I have loved it. It has been that good, I haven’t missed a day and never wanted to. I find that I am eager to learn new things and to share my new-found cooking skills at home with my family. My carrot cake is now a legendary in SERC!”

“The mentor support as part of the course has been brilliant.   It just means I have a friendly face everyday and can talk through any issues that might arise or if I am having any problems that might need extra help with.  For me, it has been a big part in helping me succeed.”

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SERC is calling for participants for the College Connect programme aimed at 16-24-year olds who are not in employment, education or training thanks to funding from the European Social Fund. The one-year mentor led programme which provides participants the opportunity to undertake a Level 1 qualification with the aim of progressing into Further Education or employment. Participants over 18 years old in receipt of Job Seekers allowance will be allowed to retain their benefit for the duration of the programme.

Barbara McNeill, Head of School, Training, at SERC said, “We know how difficult it is for young people to find a route into training or education if they have been unemployed and out of school for a while. College Connect is a relatively new programme which will help those aged 16 – 24 to kick start some training which could lead on to further education or employment in the catering and hospitality or building and construction industry.

She added, “Participants will have a personal mentor to help and support them throughout the qualification which can help address any barriers to their success. The course will commence in September 2019 for one year. This is a chance for a fresh start to gain literacy and numeracy skills, as well as the opportunity to achieve an OCN Level 1 in Vocational Skills in either Catering and Hospitality (Downpatrick Campus) or Building and Construction (Newtownards Campus).

Finally, she said, “On successful completion of the course, participants can expect to be more employable thanks to enhanced personal development skills, valuable hands on experience, improved interview experience, CV writing ability all backed up with a Level 1 vocational qualification which will give them options for progression.”

There are no formal qualifications required but applicants should have an interest in the sector area they choose to follow at Downpatrick or Newtownards Campuses.

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