IT was reported only last week that the young are being hit hardest as jobless rates soar. It was also revealed that youth unemployment on Tyneside in particular is spiralling.
Figures show 3,961 more young adults in the region out of work in June 2012 than in April 2010.
It makes for pretty grim reading. But thankfully there are companies willing to go the extra mile to help buck the trend, South Shields-based Barbour being one.
The heritage and lifestyle clothing brand, which has been operating in the North East since 1894, is supporting employment and manufacturing in the region by opening the doors of the first Barbour Academy.
Set up in partnership with Hartlepool College of Further Education and the Sora Group, the Barbour Academy aims to revive interest in careers in the textile industry, mainly targeting unemployed people in the 20-30 age bracket.
Dame Margaret Barbour, chairman at Barbour, is the driving force behind the scheme.
She said: “At Barbour we’re committed to delivering quality, which is one of the reasons why we continue to make our core product, the wax jacket, at our factory here in South Shields.
“With the decline of manufacturing in the North East, we have struggled in the past to attract staff to positions at the factory. We hope that the Barbour Academy will help to revive and sustain these skills in the region and offer employment opportunities to people in the North East who may not previously have considered a career in manufacturing.”
Yvonne Smylie, 58, has worked at Barbour for 30 years and is now a trainer at the academy.
She says that the unlikeliest of candidates can shine.
“They love the course. They don’t just get the sewing side of it, they also get to socialise as well. They tend to be nervous when they come. There was one student who hadn’t come out of her house for four years and couldn’t even cross the road.
“After five weeks her confidence had increased no end.
“She was loving it and wanting it to carry on.”
Former cleaner Robert Smith, 35, from Heaton, Newcastle, had been unemployed for over a year before joining the academy.
At the end of the course he was given a contract in Barbour’s customer services department as a reproofer, re-waxing Babour jackets that are sent to the factory for repairs.
“He was brilliant and found a real talent in sewing,” says Yvonne.
“He just took to it like a duck to water.”
Andrew Steel, assistant principal of Hartlepool College of Further Education, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Barbour to deliver this academy.
“Barbour has a great reputation for quality and we believe the Barbour Academy has great potential to engage with people in the local area, offering employment opportunities and reinvigorating the textiles sector in the region.”
The academy offers participants tailored study programmes, including oral, written, communication, technical, practical and management skills, alongside the chance to learn traditional textile skills such as pattern cutting, sampling and tailoring.
Situated on the first floor of Barbour’s South Shields manufacturing unit, students will be taught by staff from Hartlepool College, Barbour and the Sora Group dependent on their programme of study.
All students enrolled on the academy are guaranteed an interview with Barbour at the end of their studies, as well as the opportunity to be introduced to key business contacts within the region for employment opportunities in other manufacturing sectors.
Students will also be given the opportunity to move on to the next level of their NVQ or apprenticeships should they wish to continue their studies.
Since the opening of the Academy in April 2012, there have been 65 students who have undertaken the course, which is geared towards assisting students in learning new practical skills and in building their confidence.
To date there have been five students who have gained employment within Barbour or HCFE following their studies at the Barbour Academy, along with others who have found employment in other sectors within the region from the foundation work gained in the academy.
The minimum age for joining the course is 18. For more information enquire at your local Job Centre Plus.