There can be few people who have failed to notice the vast number of Polish and Eastern European workers who have arrived in the UK in search of a better life. As a Polish speaker myself, thanks to RAF service during the Cold War, I welcome this trend. I can think of no finer people and am delighted to be surrounded by Polish neighbours. What a marvellous start to the day to be welcomed by many voices greeting me with dzień dobry, and cześć!
Sadly, however, the reality of life in the UK for Polish migrant workers is far from the dream. Most of them arrive with impressive qualifications, yet are unable to do anything other than menial work, with no prospect of advancement. Hitherto FE has helped these youngsters, through ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), though funding cuts will render such support a thing of the past for the majority. The FE press has given plenty of coverage to this matter ““ and I do not want to merely repeat the arguments here ““ instead I would like to focus on other areas where colleges are proving extremely effective, by preparing these workers to develop new skills, relevant to the UK economy, and thereby escape the trap of being stuck in menial work.
Thanet College is a good example. For several months Polish workers have been trained in Health & Safety legislation, thereby enabling them to be qualified to apply for skilled work and escape the drudgery of agricultural and catering jobs that is otherwise the preserve of such workers in Kent.
Isle of Wight College, likewise, has focused training on nursing and care, thus opening a world of opportunity in a part of the UK which is in desperate need of such skilled workers, yet which has been hitherto closed to migrants. Southampton City College provides bespoke training for the retail sector and, in addition, is witnessing a wave of applications from migrants” children to attend vocational courses. Indeed, the success of the former is proven by the enthusiasm with which retail giants such as Tesco recruit such trainees and you do not have to go far into a shopping mall in Southampton to witness the huge presence of Polish workers on the shop floor. Havant College, on the other hand, has won a prestigious contract to train Polish workers employed in factories.
In sum, colleges are showing themselves to be at the forefront of the push to give new arrivals to the UK the chance to learn new skills and contribute to British society. Let us all be proud of the manner in which colleges have yet again adapted, at great speed, to the community’s learning and training needs.
Alan Corbett, International Officer, Association of South East Colleges.
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