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Giving a second chance in Castlebar

County View

Giving a second chance in Castlebar


John Healy

In a time of rising unemployment and economic recession, it can’t be easy to seek out job vacancies for people coming to the labour market for the first time. Yet in spite of that, the Castlebar-based National Learning Network has been punching above its weight in finding career openings for the students who complete one of its many programmes at its centre on the Breaffy Road.
So what is National Learning Network? It is a body contracted by Solas and the HSE to provide appropriate programmes for those who are out of work by reason of disability, illness or mental health difficulties, and who want to make a fresh start. The courses offered at NLN are FETAC accredited, and are geared at providing the opportunity to individuals to achieve valuable qualifications in a way and at a pace which suits them.
And it is this focus on individual needs which is key to the success of National Learning Network.
“Our strong point is the emphasis we place on the individual needs of each trainee,” says Peter Dooley, Area Manager for the Castlebar Centre, “Everything we do is geared to helping the individual to reach the maximum of his or her potential. Every student has an individual plan drawn up on the basis of initial needs analysis and goal setting.
“All of this is supplemented by a support staff which monitors progress and encourages the trainee in a variety of ways. This would include internal one-to-one counselling with access to external counselling where such is deemed to be of advantage,” he explains.
So what kind of courses are offered to those who may be returning to education after a layoff through injury, accident or emotional trauma of some kind, or to those who simply never completed the formal education procedure? These range from the specific, such as Computer Studies and Office Skills, to the more broad-based such as Fresh Start. The former, a two year course, enables students to obtain employment in the business related sector, and it is a measure of its success that so many have found permanent employment in local companies. The latter, a one year course, is a programme where participants experience a wide range of modules from which they are better able to make decisions regarding future choices in their personal and professional lives.
Most courses have a 50/50 mix of male and female, the exception being the highly popular Sporting Chance, a two year, top notch, course which accredits successful students for work as lifeguards, sports coaches, or to work in sports and leisure centres. And it is a reflection on the quality of the course that virtually all past graduates have gone on to find work in the leisure industry.
The courses at NLN are free, and are open to all those on a Social Welfare payment. Trainees are paid a weekly allowance, and there is no penalty for those who find that a course is not for them, and who opt out. For most courses, there is the attractive feature of ‘course sampling’, where intending trainees get to try out the course for a week or two to determine whether or not it is for them.
Peter Dooley is quick to pay tribute to the many local employers who are willing to employ his graduates, and to give them the second chance in the workforce which can really transform somebody’s life for the better.