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Unemployed learn the trade at Harold Wood workshop

Harry Comb, 25, is now in full-time employment after finishing his plastering course Harry Comb, 25, is now in full-time employment after finishing his plastering course

Sunday, June 1, 2014
9:00 AM

Unemployed people are being offered a new lease of life as trade workers thanks to an innovative training company.

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Manager Jean Thomson and owner Rob BottenManager Jean Thomson and owner Rob Botten

Specialist Trade Courses, based in Church Road, Harold Wood, run courses in plastering, painting and decorating, carpentry and tiling, and work with Job Centre Plus to take on out-of-work hopefuls.

The hands-on sessions usually last between two to four weeks, and equip people with the skills needed to move into employment.

Owner Rob Rotten and manager Jean Thomson moved the business to the area last October from Harlow, and now receive 75 per cent of their business through Job Centre Plus (JCP) referrals.

“Three years ago it was the other way around,” said Rob. “But because of the recession and people being out of work, we get about 60-80 people per month now.

“A lot of them have interest in one of the skill sets. The courses are very practical.”

About 95 per cent of the clients go into work after finishing their courses, according to Jean, one of which is 25-year-old Harry Comb of Romford.

“I was out of work for two years - a long time.” said the former Sanders School student and father-of-three. “My advisor said about the course so I gave it a go. I had done a bit of roofing before and had an interest in the building trade.

“The staff were really supportive and friendly, it was good.”

Harry was fast-tracked onto a traineeship with Havering Council contractors Willmott Dixon, working on the Prospect Place project in Collier Row.

He is now in full-time employment.

“I was knackered after my first day,” he admitted. “I was eased in for two hours, and then straight in. I’m really enjoying it, I have a laugh.

“I’m glad I did the course, I was looking for van driving but this is better.”

The company has four trainers who teach the different skills, and paying customers come from far and wide.

“We had one guy fly in from Australia last week to do a course, and we get a lot from Nigeria,” said Rob.

What they don’t get a lot of though, is women, possibly because they don’t realise the amount of jobs available in the sector.

“There are so many opportunities in construction for women,” he explained. “Even things like working in halfway houses where men aren’t allowed. The girls we do get, go on to do very well though, we have one woman who started an agency and she takes a lot of the girls.”

Rob admits that on the first day of the course, he can see some people questioning their involvement, but by their second day they are “transformed.”

“Historically, these people may not have been told ‘well done’ in their lives,” he said. “But we give them praise. They get themselves into work and learn they can be successful. But they have got to want to do that, there is some conditioning.

“But seeing people find work, like Harry did, it’s what we do it for, there is a pride.”

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