Doncaster training firm is helping residents back into jobs including minding US rapper Eminem

Tony Wagstaff has every faith in a Doncaster training company's work when it comes to helping people into work.

Monday, 2nd July 2018, 12:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th July 2018, 5:08 pm
Free2Learn staff members l-r Gail Maxwell, teaching and learning manager, Tony Wagstaff, security and facilities, Andy Hibbitt, chief commercial officer, John Cusworth, Head of business centre, Debbie Calvert, audit and due diligence manager, Patrick Ferris, apprenticeships administrator, Kerry Manley, data manager, Craig Hanby, learner engagement manager and Lesley Cooper, lead apprenticeship administrator. Picture: Marie Caley

Last year he feared he was on the scrapheap after losing his job at a warehousing firm and then a charity, at the age of 56.

He turned to Free2Learn on Cleveland Street for help, taking one of their courses in November. By December he was back in work - on the books of Free2Learn as one its its security and facilities staff.

Jessie Biggs, Tutor, pictured with some learners. Picture: Marie Caley

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"I didn't think I'd work again when I came here," he said. "It is so good to be back in work again."

He is one of around 1,500 people who receive training through the firm in the borough last year, with around 75 per cent of them finding work through their schemes, according to the company's figures.

Many of them are referred by the job centre, and most are people who, like Tony, fear they will not be able to find work.

Chief commercial officer at Free2Learn, Andrew Hibbitt, believes one of the keys to success in getting people back to work has been that they pay for their trainees to get their relevant professional licences.

He said: "For us, it is all about getting people into sustainable work. We work closely with the college and local employers who will come in and guarantee job interviews at the end. But we pay for a licence that will get people into work, which otherwise would involve them having to find hundreds of pounds of their own money.

"For instance, if someone is training in logistics, will will pay for their fork lift truck licence. We may pay for someone's security badge if they are training in security. Hopefully that is a big step towards a job, and we're proud of that.

"If people have not got industry recognised documents, they can struggle."

Last year the firm put around 500 people into jobs with Amazon, in security and warehouse work. They are seeing logistics as a big route into work for many.

Other firms they have worked with have taken on their trainees in fields including retail, traffic management systems, and security.

Among its former trainees' duties after they moved into work have included security jobs at the 2017 UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff. and guarding the door of US rapper Eminem's caravan at the Leeds Festival.

Mr Hibbitt opened the firm's Doncaster operation in 2016, having previously worked at one of its London sites.

He felt there was a lot of opportunity in the borough.

"We are offering opportunities to hard to reach people," he said. "And there are a lot of opportunities in Doncaster, with places like the iPort at Rossington, and with all the good transport links Doncaster has.

"We are all about getting people into jobs and giving them the skills they need - and not necessarily just work related skills. It can be about confidence building or personal hygiene. Last week, one of our tutors went to the bank with a learner and and helped them fill in a form to open an account - it is about doing anything that will make a difference."

The firm is currently looking at expanding into construction training, as it sees it as a growth area in the borough at present, with a large number of building sites. Mr Hibbitt believes there has been a rise in the sector over the last 12 to 18 months.

He believes with construction projects around the airport and other sites, building work is going to be a growth area for some time.

It will start courses in August, and they will provide the basic qualification to work on a site, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme - or CSCS - card. For further training, Free2Learn staff will refer people to Doncaster College or employers. They are setting up a committee to see what skills bosses want, and to make sure they are providing the right ones.

When it came to Doncaster, the firm moved into a former shop premises on Cleveland Street, spending thousands of pounds on revamping it to be an office. The windows were enlarged on the upper floors to create a building with a lot of natural light and panoramic views along the street.

He said his firm had chosen a town centre building because of the advantages it brought through good bus and transport links.

He said: "I think there is a bright future for the town centre still, and I think the people in charge of the council are keen to make sure of that. Retail is clearly facing challenges, but buildings can potentially be used for other businesses."