Training academies and skills centres set up to teach vocational skills to social housing residents, young people and school pupils around Britain have been praised by multimillionaire businessman and TV personality Sir Gerry Robinson as "an invaluable initiative to give opportunities to those that need them most".
The scheme, developed and implemented by social housing repairs and maintenance provider Mears Group, represents an initiative to battle unemployment around the country and provide practical opportunities for people to improve their practical knowledge and skills and feel better equipped to find work in an unforgiving financial climate, while offering young people and school pupils the opportunity to pursue vocational paths that otherwise remain rare in traditional avenues of education.
Sir Gerry Robinson said: "An increasing number of people find themselves sidelined by society because they are in a poor position to find employment, or because they did not succeed in traditional education. This often leads them to end up on the wrong side of the law, especially with drink and drugs.
"Mears Academies represent a chance for those who find themselves in vulnerable situations, to gain the skills required to get into work and to restore their confidence and self esteem. For youths and school pupils especially those that struggle in full-time education, the Academies offer the chance to explore paths that fall outside the normal curriculum."
Mears has so far set up five academies and skills centres in Peterborough, Ealing, Wigan, Sedgefield and Hackney - which recently received an award from the London Assembly - to provide manual trades training, life-skills workshops and educational seminars to local residents, and especially students and young people, to increase individuals' prospects and battle unemployment across Britain.
Bob Holt, chairman of Mears Group, said: "The academies are designed to provide a valuable source of learning for people interested in vocational careers, increase the employability of British students and youths, especially during such an unforgiving financial era, and to create opportunities for those who may have struggled in traditional forms of education or with finding employment.
"It is the Mears culture to be involved in the development of the local community in every way possible," continued Holt. "In encouraging learning and ambition, passing on our expertise and battling worklessness in the areas in which we work, we take an active part in transforming communities. We are far more to our residents than just a service provider."
Development and improvement
The Mears Academies are the result of a partnership between Mears, its clients, the local authority and a number of organisations, ranging from schools, charities and colleges to local Job Centres and organisations such as Connexions. In some instances, the Mears Academies form part of the social housing specialist's contract with the local authority.
"Our commitment to setting up an academy," explained Holt. "is about contributing in every way possible to the development and improvement of the local community."
Centre for vocational learning
While the academies all differ in some way, with a variety of unique courses and servicesfrom location to location, the fundamental formula of all of the facilities is to provide a community centre where local people can learn a variety of manual trades skills from experts in their fields.
Academies are structured around practical learning areas where skilled repairs and maintenance operatives from Mears teach a range of workshops and seminars such as fencing, joinery, electrical maintenance, plumbing, bricklaying, woodwork and painting and decorating. The academies often offer a range of supplementary classes, computer facilities, apprenticeships and a community resource for all age groups and levels of ability, in addition to DIY training taught by Mears' own operatives.
The Peterborough, Ealing, Wigan, Sedgefield and Hackney Academies' main intake comes from local schools, tenant groups and Job Centres, but the academies are available to any resident from the surrounding area. A local charity in Peterborough, FrogLife, brings young offenders to the Academy to teach them woodwork to make bird boxes for local parks.
"Our academies are a means by which we at Mears can use our expertise and our standing in the community to up-skill those that find themselves with limited prospects," explained Bob Holt.
Sir Gerry Robinson
The academies in Peterborough, Ealing, Wigan, Sedgefield and Hackney have so far taught courses to over 1,500 people. With more facilities in various stages of completion, the academies scheme represents an attempt to tackle the issue of youth unemployment and lack of a good skills base in communities around the country - a serious problem in the eyes of Sir Gerry Robinson.
Sir Gerry, whose TV ventures have included Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? and a series that offered financial salvation to floundering businesses, is no stranger to crusading for a good cause. Having preceded his TV career as Chairman of Sky, Granada and Allied Domecq PLC, amongst others, he has considerable expertise in business and a wealth of knowledge in the world of employment.
"I think there is a culture in Britain to sidetrack youths who do not succeed in traditional forms of education," said Sir Gerry. "Once someone has made a wrong move in life, either in their education, their work history, or with the law, they are treated almost as a social outcast - a label that is very difficult to shift."
"Given the chance to excel at something that they care about can often be the deciding factor with these individuals. All they need is for someone to give them another chance to succeed. The Mears Training Academies scheme gives them, and anyone else who wishes to pursue a vocational career, that chance," said Robinson.
A new academy
Mears launched its sixth Training Academy in Birmingham on Wednesday 23 September. Mears has worked in the area since 2007 after winning a response and void homes contract for Birmingham City Council and founded the academy in conjunction with the council and a number of local organisations, businesses and colleges.