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Training for Southwark’s front line workers

Dawn Kozoboli of London South Bank University

The Front Line Workers’ Project is focused primarily on Southwark, where regeneration and remarketing has transformed areas, but many residents are unable to take up new employment opportunities because of their low level of basic skills.

The Basic Skills Agency Survey of 1998 identified Southwark as being 5th from bottom nationally with over 20 percent of the population having below the minimum level of literacy required to function in everyday life – in some wards, the figure is as high as 50 percent.

Since 2002 the LLU+ has been working with the London Development Agency on a 3 year project aimed at improving awareness of clients' basic skills needs on the part of front line workers in organisations such as Job Centre Plus, faith groups, housing associations, the probation service, the NHS and the police force. Because of their direct, and often, supporting role, front line workers in these organisations are invaluable in identifying basic skills and ESOL needs of adults using their service, and are able to refer appropriately and sympathetically.

The training for front line workers has been running since January 2003 and will continue until March 2005. The course runs for 3 hours, 1 day per week for 5 weeks – is free to the employer and employee and accredited at LOCN Level 2 (1 credit). It is professional training delivered in a relaxed and friendly way.

Along with the excitement of preparing for this new project, one of the main challenges anticipated (and met!) was to do with the reluctance of employers to release front line employees for training. Part of this reluctance could be attributed to the awareness training being a new concept, and partly it was to do with the difficulties employers face when having to cover the absence of key members of staff. We have responded by being as flexible as possible – by holding the courses on different days of the week; by incorporating 30 hours of learning into a mixture of input, private study and visits to basic skills providers, and by inviting management to free taster sessions, which we host at their venues. The response has been encouraging and feedback indicates that participants are finding the training is enjoyable and worthwhile:

…………. I feel more confident when talking to people and am able to recognise when they have a little ‘academic' secret – only the other day at work, I heard someone refusing to fill in a form, then asking someone to do it for her – before I came on this course, I might just have thought she was being a bit lippy, a bit cheeky, but now I strongly suspected she had a problem with writing

The LLU+ has also been running Family Learning courses as part of the wider LDA project as parental involvement is a key factor in increasing employment opportunities for local, socially excluded parents, as well as increasing the self-esteem of participants on our family learning courses. In addition, the parents, carers and grandparents who take part become valuable role models for their families – as well as front line workers for other parents and carers in the community.

• For more information on the Front Line Workers' Basic Skills Awareness Training please contact Dawn Kozoboli at [email protected] or ring on 020 7815 6290.

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