Shire Housing takes on new Modern Apprentice

(from left) Janet Allan, Yvonne Anderson, Reagan Kelly (seated), Lynn Miller, Maureen Miller and Jim Munro
(from left) Janet Allan, Yvonne Anderson, Reagan Kelly (seated), Lynn Miller, Maureen Miller and Jim Munro

Eighteen year old Reagan Kelly wanted to work in an office as a youngster, but never thought she’d get to realise her ambition.

Instead she worked limited hours as a waitress when she left Cumnock Academy. But motivated by a strong will to work and gain full time employment with a future, she decided to look for a new opportunity and her initiative has now paid off.

Today, thanks to a new funding stream and partnership working driven by East Ayrshire Council’s Economic Development team, she’s embarking on a Modern Apprenticeship (MA) as a highly valued new member of the team at Shire Housing Association’s office in Netherthird.

East Ayrshire Council’s Maureen Millar, who is the Work Coach for the Cumnock area, described Reagan’s journey into her new job: “I first met Reagan when she was referred to me by Kay Hannah of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). She’d gone there looking for a job and was willing to consider anything. Kay referred her to us because we can offer help, including one to one Job Search support, for young people between 16-29 years old and not in employment, education or training.

“It was immediately obvious that Reagan was a people person, and ideally suited to doing a customer facing type of job. I placed her on a two week course, delivered by my colleagues in Economic Development in Kilmarnock to help prepare her for making job applications. This wasn’t an easy option for Reagan as it meant a long journey, by bus from her home in Lugar to Cumnock, then a bus to Kilmarnock and finally a walk to the offices where the course was held. Nevertheless she made the effort every day, turned up on time, and maintained an obvious enthusiasm.”

Yvonne Anderson, job brokerage officer, liaises with businesses to find training and job opportunities for job seekers.

She recalls interviewing Reagan: “What shone out for me was when Reagan expressed an interest in studying Business Administration, on the grounds that it would be relevant to lots of careers. It showed me she’d really thought about and had ambition for the future, was keen and willing to study to get herself an opening with good prospects. She was just the kind of candidate we, and the employers we work with, are always keen to encourage.”

Reagan then did a six week work placement with Shire Housing Association. It gave them a chance to see if she would be able to fit in with the existing team and cope with the job, while for Reagan it provided valuable work experience and an opportunity to see if it was really the kind of job she wanted. Yvonne and Maureen pulled out the stops to make the placement possible, working with Shire and also ensuring that she retained her JobSeekers Allowance during that time.

Yvonne said: “People often think they’ll lose benefits if they do work experience, but we work hard with all our partner organisations and have some degree of flexibility to ensure each candidate gets the best support possible.

“At the same time we were working closely with Shire to ensure that the placement went smoothly and that they could offer a sustainable, long term job opportunity. We’ve just secured European Structural Funding to support the Youth Employment Initiative which lets us offer employers a 26 week 50 per cent wage subsidy for Modern Apprenticeships, to encourage them to meet their future workforce requirements by recruiting and training young people with the right attitude to develop the skills required.

For Lynn Miller, Reagan’s mentor at Shire, the assistance from the Economic Development Team has been invaluable.

Lynn said: “Yvonne and her team have been a huge help from the moment we identified that we might be able to take on an apprentice. They’ve helped with her selection and recruitment and provided the training she needed before she started so that she was able to come in feeling confident about her new role. And their ongoing support is proving invaluable.”

Reagan added: “From the help I got from DWP to starting in here, everyone has been so helpful. When I walked in to ask about getting a job I was up for anything, and I’ve been encouraged and supported every step of the way.

“I felt very welcome from the second I walked in here to start my job placement. The best thing about this job is the people. They’re all so helpful and friendly and nothing is too much trouble. I get to do lots of different tasks in here, from scanning and filing to emailing, answering phones and dealing with phone calls. It’s been a real eye-opener to learn about how the world of housing works.

“I’m currently doing a Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) course in Housing which I travel to Glasgow to do. It’s a 5 week course delivered by another Housing Association, SHARE and I’m really enjoying it, meeting people working in other Housing Associations and learning all about my new career. Once that’s finished I’ll be doing my Level 2 SVQ in Housing which will include modules in subjects such as Health and Safety, Housing Applications and Registration.”

Lynn Miller is a real enthusiast for the scheme. She said: “It’s an absolutely great way of finding young talent, the whole system between the Economic Development Team and their partners is geared around giving young people the chance to take a first step into meaningful employment. The way we see it, taking on a young person brings value to our business as well as to the individual. Through the SVQ system we can offer great training and development opportunities. We can see the plan ahead for ourselves and the young person, all working together. We can clearly see the benefits and hopefully other employers will too.”

Jim Munro, director of Shire Housing, said: “Reagan’s employment reflects an increasing focus on partnership working and we’re keen to be able to provide opportunities for local young people. Supporting this MA using the Youth Employment Initiative is an ideal way for us to do this.”

Janet Allan, a former housing professional and now chair of Shire, added: “This all moved very quickly for us once Lynn convinced the board that we should take up the opportunity to employ a MA. Reagan first joined us in January and became an employee on 14th March and as proof of our commitment to her we decided to invest properly, paying her above the living wage rate, and embracing all possible assistance to help her progress through her Apprenticeship with a view to permanent long term employment. We’ve grown since our inception in 1996 to 19 staff, it’s a multi-million pound business and we wish Reagan well in her career - we hope she won’t be the last to join us in this way.”

Councillor Jim Buchanan, member for economy, said: “Shire’s story exemplifies so much of what’s great about the work of our Economic Development Team in partnership with many other agencies. Every time I encounter a business which has used our services to take on a Modern Apprentice, the feedback from both employee and employer is overwhelmingly positive. We have the means to access funding and training to help, whatever the circumstances or size of a business, and I’d urge more employers and job seekers to contact us to find out more.”

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