Norse and Project Search
8th July 2010 was a special day for eight young people in Norfolk, as their success in taking part in an innovative work-based learning course was marked with a graduation ceremony.
Project Search, a government-funded scheme that aims to get young people aged 18 – 24 with learning difficulties into work, sees an employer team up with a college to run a year-long course that provides a mixture of work placements and classroom learning – the big difference is that all of this happens in the work place.
In September 2009, Norse Commercial Services accepted its initial intake of Project Search students, making it the first commercial company in the UK to take part in the scheme. In a unique partnership with City College Norwich, employment services provider Remploy and Norfolk County Council Community Services, Norse accommodated the eight students, who have a wide range of learning difficulties.
The students, who were all previously enrolled on courses at City College Norwich, carried out three work place rotations per academic year, giving them experience of departments including bus maintenance, payroll and human resources, general administration, catering and the refurbishment unit. Around two thirds of the students’ day was spent working alongside Norse employees with the remaining third spent in a specially created classroom on the site to receive tailored tuition and discuss their experiences of work that day.
During the year, a dedicated tutor from City College Norwich and job coach from Remploy were based on the Norse site and helped both the students and the company to make the Project Search course a success. On each placement, the students all had workplace ‘buddies’ in their departments to help them settle in and gain a better understanding of the work.
Such is the success of the course that Norse has taken on four of the eight students in permanent roles while two others have found employment elsewhere. Norse and its Project Search partners are currently helping the remaining two to find jobs.
Norse has also committed to the scheme in the next academic year, this time accepting 10 students – which unfortunately meant another 26 had to be turned away as a total of 36 applications from City College Norwich students for places at Norse next year.
Tricia Fuller, HR Director at Norse Commercial Services, said: “The project has worked better than I could have imagined and I’m very proud of all our graduating students. I’ll admit I was a bit daunted when we began the course about the level of demand it would place on the company but with all the support from our Project Search partners the investment required from us in terms of staff time, and money for that matter, hasn’t been too big and in fact it’s been a really valuable scheme for Norse to run. From it, we have now got four employees who already know the company and have the skills required to do the job, and we would have taken on more of the students if we had the jobs to give to them. We have also noticed that many of our employees perform better after being involved with the scheme, and when bidding for contracts, a lot of the organisations are really interested to hear about Project Search, so it gives us a competitive edge.”
“The best thing about Project Search is that it really works – it gives people with learning difficulties experience of work and the skills required in the workplace, and then gets them into real jobs. It really challenges and changes mindsets about people with learning difficulties, both those of employers and the students themselves about what they are capable of. I believe that no other similar scheme works as well and hope that many more employers consider getting involved so all students who want to take part in the project can do.”
At the graduation ceremony at the Norse offices on Fifers Lane, the eight students were be presented with a certificate and commemorative watch by Harold Bodmer, Director of Community Services at Norfolk County Council, in front of an audience including their family members and Norse employees. A DVD of the students’ experiences throughout the year at the company is also being produced by Norse and the graduation ceremony will be filmed as part of this. The DVD will be completed by the end of July and copies will be available on request to all interested parties, particularly other employers interested in finding out more about Project Search.
The graduation ceremony for the Project Search students comes in the same week that Norse Commercial Services discovered it had been awarded top honours in two categories in the national Business in the Community’s Awards for Excellence. Vying against major brands such as Marks & Spencer and EDF, Norse won the ‘Example of Excellence’ in the Employability Award and the Skills in the Workplace Award, with the company’s involvement in Project Search contributing to the Employability Award win.
Judges of the Employability Award category said: “Norse Commercial Services illustrates its commitment to the employability agenda by investing considerable time and resource in their activities. The most significant output of this investment is a robust and sustainable approach to supporting people into work and keeping them there.”
Meanwhile, judges of the Skills in the Workplace category said: “Other employers will be inspired to develop similar initiatives by what NCS has achieved across a traditionally dispersed and low-skilled workforce. Totally integrating a culture of learning across the organisation, it has embedded skills development and progression in the heart of the business, reaching beyond the existing workforce to the wider community and future employees.”
Tony Williams, Norse board member and councillor with responsibility for Commercial Services on Norfolk County Council, said: “This is only the second time in the history of Business in the Community’s Awards for Excellence that a company has won two awards in one year, which gives an impression of the scale of what Norse has achieved. Norse is proud to be a trailblazer in terms of its development offer to its staff and ethos of being a responsible employer in the wider community, and these awards are a ringing endorsement of the hard work and innovative attitudes of staff. My thanks and congratulations to every employee at Norse Commercial Services, who have all contributed to this success.”
Norse runs a number of programmes that aim to breakdown barriers for people who want to work or return to work. This include work placement schemes aimed at ex-offenders, people trying to overcome drug and alcohol dependency issues and the long-term unemployed, and nearly half (46 per cent) of all the people who come to Norse on placements go on to be employed by the company.
The results of the Awards for Excellence were announced at a ceremony at the Royal College of Music in London on Monday evening (5 July). Tony Williams, Tricia, and Jon Herbert attended to collect the awards. Following on from the awards ceremony, all nominees and winners were invited to a gala dinner at the Royal Albert Hall that was hosted by HRH the Prince of Wales, who was celebrating his 25th year in his role as President of Business in the Community.
To request a copy of Norse’s Project Search DVD, available from the end of July, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Employers interested in finding out more about Project Search and potentially getting involved with the scheme can contact email@example.com.