Despite having one of the highest levels of unemployment in Wales there was a shortage of experienced community development workers in Blaenau Gwent, GAVO, the local County Voluntary Council, created the CATS project to address the skills gap between local people and employers’ needs by recruiting trainees for work experience placements at local, community-led regeneration initiatives such as Communities First.
The trainees were at the outset inexperienced and unskilled in community development work, but were given in-depth training and work experience to raise their skill levels and to improve their confidence and self-esteem.
In the first year twelve trainees were recruited. In the second, eight of these were given the opportunity to become Assistant Community Development Officers and given bursaries to continue pursuit of a recognised qualification such as an NVQ in Community Development Work, a Youth and Community Work degree and an MSc in Community Regeneration.
During the project all the trainees were given advice and guidance on future career choices, seeking employment, CV writing skills and interview skills, and brought together in team building activity days and regular peer group meetings aimed at encouraging them to build their own peer support network.
In recognition of its success over the initial two years, the CATS project was granted a year’s extension. A further five trainees were taken on during this final year and given similar work experience and the opportunity to ain relevant recognised qualifications,
CATS has benefited not just the trainees who joined the scheme, but the more than 100 community and voluntary groups they worked with and advised.
Ten of the twelve original recruits successfully completed the programme, and nine had gained employment in the community development field by the completion of the project. For all of the trainees CATS helped to provide stepping stones to future work and increased the employability of previously economically inactive people. Nearly all obtained a qualification, with a third embarking on a higher level NVQ and a third going on to University and higher qualifications.
One of the graduates of the CATS programme is Neil Jones. Starting in 2005 he underwent intensive theoretical and vocational training in the community to become a development officer.
Neil helped set up six new community groups involving over 500 people and assisted in submitting small funding bids totalling over £32,000 and in developing constitutions for the groups.
On completion of the programme, Neil gained employment with GAVO in Caerphilly as a Community Development Officer, representing the voluntary sector and working with local councils and statutory organisations.
Neil has recently helped Manmoel Welfare Association secure over £100,000 in funding to purchase their village hall for community activities.
“The job is so diverse; I can honestly say that no day is ever the same. I work with so many groups, from small craft groups and senior citizens to Communities First partnerships and health groups.”