Rathcoole woman Jenny Gould is among the first candidates from North Belfast and Newtownabbey who are reaping the benefits of a programme to help long-term unemployed people back into work and to get a feel for business.
Jenny, who left school at 16 and has been unemployed for 9 years, has taken the first steps back into employment, after completing the Exploring Enterprise 2 Programme (EE2P) through Antrim Enterprise Agency. She is interested in starting up her own pastry and cakes business and so her future is looking sweet.
EE2P gives unemployed people a first insight into starting a business and a foot up onto mainstream business support programmes. It is part-funded by the European Social Fund, the Department for Employment and Learning, Enterprise NI and the local Enterprise Agencies under the NI ESF Programme 2007-13.
Jenny explained why the programme was so valuable to her: “I wanted to get out into work and although I have done some volunteering in charity shops, I have no qualifications or work experience, so it is very tough. I have always thought about doing something for myself but never really knew how to go about it. I met Kerry from Antrim Enterprise Agency while I was out shopping with my mum in the Abbeycentre.
“She gave me her card and I told her I wasn’t interested. It was my mum that really encouraged me, she gave me the gentle shove I needed to get out there! My five-year-old son is out at school now so I was sitting about all day on my own with nothing to do. I realised the time was right and I had no more excuses, so I went on the programme.”
Antrim Enterprise Agency, with support from People Fusion, has delivered a comprehensive training and development programme which gives candidates a formal CCEA qualification, as well as developing essential skills and improving confidence.
Kerry McClintock from the Enterprise Agency said: “Through the Exploring Enterprise Programme we hope to create a pool of new business talent within Northern Ireland’s most deprived communities. Candidates don’t need to have a specific business idea to join. The programme provides an insight into starting a business and gets candidates thinking about the possibilities within their grasp. We can then help them take the next steps to help them fulfil their ambitions.”
Jenny said: “I have always enjoyed baking and I love to bake buns with my son. I often make cakes and pastries for friends and they always get lovely compliments. This inspired me to try and build it into a business.
“The whole course was brilliant. I didn’t realise what it takes to start your own business. Now I know what I have to do and everyone involved in the course was so helpful along the way. After being out of work for so long and stuck at home, I felt very isolated and I wasn’t very confident talking to people, now I could talk to anyone - this is a really big step for me.
“I am so much more determined now with Kerry helping me. The more the weeks went on, the more I wanted to do it and it is great to think I have the chance to bring more money into the house.
“I am now really motivated to get on to my next steps. Now that the course is finished, I am seeing Kerry to get advice on the right tech courses to develop my skills and get more qualified. Tracy is also helping me with CV skills, so I can apply for courses and job placements.
“If anyone else out there is in the same position as I was in, I would say to them: don’t sit there and wonder if you can do it, just research who can help you do it and lift the phone or go and see them. I sat for years when I could have been out there - you don’t want to look back at your life and have regrets, so just get on with it.”
Kerry added: “We are really thrilled for Jenny. Through the programme she has been given the skills, insight and confidence to see the opportunities that are out there and within her reach. She is ambitious and she now has big ideas for the future. She is a great girl and she’s working very hard. We wish her every success in achieving the goals she has set herself - she has a lot to look forward to.”
And Gordon Gough, Chief Executive, Enterprise Northern Ireland said: “It is encouraging to see that almost 450 people have completed the Exploring Enterprise2 Programme to date and in doing so they have increased their employment capabilities. In the current climate it is vital that people have the skills and networks to grasp employment opportunities and start their own business. Growing the private sector is a key component of the Northern Ireland Economic strategy and EE2P is right at the heart of this.”