Youth Train on the right track
There was a time when Manager of Youth Train Paul O'Brien told people that he worked with early school leavers. Today? He is doesn't believe that is the case.
'Ten years ago, there was an idea that we worked with early school leavers. But do we? The young people that come here are working and doing something positive with themselves. If they were early school leavers, they would just be at home.'
Since the training facility was established in 2000, the Youth Train vision has changed dramatically and in turn, so has the public perception. According to Paul, people are now becoming more open to the idea of youth training facilities as a positive stepping stone towards employment. While they were once seen as a 'last chance saloon' for young people, centres such as Youth Train are now finding their place in the educational sphere.
'There was once a common idea that the students who come here have been kicked out of school but this is rarely the case. Most of them are choosing to leave school because they want to work,' said Paul.
The 40 students who are currently taking part in Youth Train's programmes certainly are putting the work in. By taking part in the courses for 260 days of the year, they have a learning year that is several weeks longer than their mainstream counterparts. For five days a week, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., they are required to attend various 45 minute classes in a wide range of academic and practical areas.
Despite several changes over the years, the basis of Youth Train has remained the same. From the beginning, they have served as a training centre for young people between 16 and 21 who have left school. As Paul explained, their focus is on work and preparing these young people for future employment but like anything, this takes a bit of initial encouragement.
'When they first get here, a lot of the students are just happy to be out of school,' he explained. 'Their motivation changes as they go along. As they transition, work becomes a focus. We help them to find something to aim for.'
Youth Train help their students to find their niche by offering them experience in a wide range of areas. In their QQI Level Three Employability Skills course, they delve into subjects such as communications, career preparation, IT, safety awareness, woodcraft, art, and breakfast cookery. A period of work experience is also an integral part of the course. The nine month programme equips students with the necessary skills to transition from classroom to workplace. Above all, it gives them confidence to go further.
'Confidence is everything,' explained Paul. 'We help them to grow their confidence by working in small groups, getting to know the students from the beginning and knowing when things are going well or not.'
'They soon start to see opportunities and become braver. If that is all we do for some students, then that is still great.'
This newfound confidence means that some students move straight on to the workplace after the first programme. Meanwhile, others may progress to the QQI Level Four Employment Skills course. This more specialised programme, which also involves work experience, helps them to hone in on their talents and interests and develop a solid base for employment. It also allows students to continue on to a PLC in an area of their choice.
The individual goals and ideas of each student are developed and nurtured under the one roof at the Youth Train base in Whitemill Industrial Estate. This spacious premises is a far cry from their original haunt in Wexford town, which Paul explains was too small and stifling for everyone involved.
'This place gives us the space to think a bit bigger,' explains Paul, who said they relocated in 2011.
A common area, several lecture rooms, computer rooms, a woodwork area and a common room make up the core of Youth Hub. In recent weeks, they also added a fully-equipped, professional training kitchen, which is fitted with approved appliances and surfaces. This new addition brings a host of opportunities to the table for the students, who will now be able to learn kitchen skills in a professional environment.
'There seems to be a catering hub in Wexford and all of these businesses need staff,' said Paul. 'It is a sector that requires a bit of energy and hands on work and these guys have that.'
In September, Youth Train will launch their QQI 4 Catering Major award, which will help students to build the foundation for working in this industry.
Youth Train are hoping that they can add other industry specific courses to their programme as time goes on. They are also exploring the prospect of introducing traineeships by working on their relationships with local employers.
'Eventually, we would love for students to be able to come in here and we can offer them a five year plan. That would be fantastic. That is the vision,' said Paul.
For now, the staff at Youth Train are quite satisfied with their progress. Through working 'in the best interest of the students', they have seen some major success stories, with the last three weeks proving to be particularly significant for Paul.
'Three ex-trainees recently reconnected with us through their workplaces. Whereas we were once helping them to find work, they're now coming back to offer work to people here,' he said. 'It shows that we represent a safe place for people to come to for support but also one that they can come back to and offer support. I am 16 years here and it's lovely to see this cycle.'