Why does Action Community Enterprises CIC in Norfolk see Skills Bootcamps as a great route into logistics?
Action Community Enterprises (better known as ACE) is a specialist education and support provider and has been giving people vocational training, and individualised and support learning since 2011. Its founder and CEO, Lou Gardiner, is committed to helping people gain skills to build a better life.
ACE works closely with schools, colleges, employers, the voluntary sector and organisations such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and New Anglia LEP. As Lou explains, “We help them support children, young people and adults across Norfolk. We are a not-for-profit social enterprise that’s focused on providing people with the training and qualifications they need to get good jobs.”
That focus includes wrap-around support to give individuals the confidence and work experience to enter employment and take their place in society. “Most of ACE’s employees, me included, have some kind of lived experience that helps us understand the challenges facing many people. We combine that empathy with a willingness to encourage people to push themselves to succeed.”
Bridging the skills gap and supporting the local business community
“We have excellent relationships with many local employers and know there are big skills gaps in the region,” says Lou. “This is holding back people, families, businesses and the local economy. That’s why we applied to New Anglia LEP to run Skills Bootcamps in logistics, with a focus on warehouses and factories, because these will help bridge one of those gaps and are a natural fit for ACE’s range of services.”
Lou took a cautious approach to start with by offering to run a small trial with just 12 learners in three groups. “We are focused on delivery and tend to pick the hardest groups to work with, so we needed to make sure we could get this right before scaling up.” All 12 learners were either looking to enter employment for the first time or return to employment after a prolonged absence.
“We wanted to help learners gain an entry level logistics qualification because there is a lot of demand for such skills. We had decided to teach them forklift truck driving but added on reach truck driving at the request of a large local employer who was struggling to find qualified people. We were also keen to provide the level of wrap-around support that people entering work really need to acclimatise to their new life.”
Soft skills are some of the hardest skills to teach and learn
Skills Bootcamps, which are free to learners, help people gain recognised qualifications and get real job interviews. However, ACE doesn’t just develop their skills and interview techniques but also their work ethic because people who are unused to structured work can struggle with the transition to employment.
“One of our clients was a man who had been out of work for many years because he was caring for his wife. He was incredibly anxious about going back into a large factory with all the noise and activity. At the same time as helping him cope with that, we had to help him understand certain values and behaviours, such as the importance of being on time and phoning in if he was running late.”
This level of support is one reason why businesses like working with ACE. “There are more job vacancies than there are qualified people,” says Lou. “So we encourage employers to take on people who are not fully qualified, who are new to the sector, or simply not the kind of person they would normally consider, which they do because they know we will continue to support them throughout the transition.”
The ACE guide to the ABCD of employment
ACE’s inclusive approach treats people as individuals. “We want to help them fulfil their human potential so we take a ‘stepping stones’ approach to getting them work. Think of it as ABCD: Any job (perhaps part-time), a Better job (maybe more hours or paying more, or both), then qualified for a Career, and finally, for those with ambition, their Dream job.”
Before ACE accepts people on its Skills Bootcamps, it conducts a wellbeing assessment and a ready-for-work assessment. This is because spaces are limited and they need to know that applicants have the right attitude towards learning and working. All applicants also take an online assessment in English and Maths to see what additional level of support they might need during the course.
The Skills Bootcamps run for 16-weeks and involve three days each week of in-person learning. They include site visits so learners can see the type of operational environment in which they might work. “We have worked closely with the local DWP, who see the importance of what we are doing, to ensure that people on our courses don’t have to attend as many interviews as those who are not in training,” says Lou.
“This is an important two-way process. The DWP are more flexible with our learners in return for us keeping the DWP updated on their progress. We work with our learners on this too – encouraging them to communicate and to see that we and the DWP are trying to help them, not punish them.”
Developing an understanding of what employers and employees need
ACE has now applied to run more Skills Bootcamps in 2023. “We have learnt that while employers like the qualifications, they love it when applicants really understand the role and how it fits the bigger picture. So, we are building in more opportunities for that vital work experience to give people practical, relevant skills.
“Skills Bootcamps fit well with our range of services for neuro-diverse people and others who might struggle in mainstream colleges. We see a good opportunity to get more people from non-traditional learning backgrounds into the region’s fast-growing sectors. By providing specific training to fill the skills gaps, plus wrap-around support,” Lou concludes, “we can give people the ability to take their first steps into a world of rewarding work.”
To find out more about Skills Bootcamps visit https://newanglia.co.uk/skills-bootcamps/