The achievements of 456 students from all over East Antrim have been officially recognised at a special reception organised by LEDCOM, at Willowbank Business Park, in Larne.
They have been participating in the Learner Access and Engagement Programme (LAE) and Exploring Enterprise 2 (EEP 2) Programme,
Of those, 279 were from Larne, 117 from Carrickfergus, 163 from Moyle and 60, from Newtownabbey, (Ballyclare, Ballynure and Doagh).
A total of 55 per cent of those who took part have achieved a recognised qualification, with others still awaiting results.
Project manager Patricia Brennan, from LEDCOM, said: “Returning to education can be a daunting step, but through the LAE we were able to support and encourage more than 600 adults along this journey. Our team were hugely successful in reaching out to local people and encouraging them to take this first step in re-entering mainstream education,”
The event marked the end of the LAE programme, which had been funded by the Department of Employment and Learning and the EEP 2 programme, organised by Enterprise NI, which is due to be replaced by EEP 3.
LAE, a joint programme delivered by LEDCOM and the Northern Regional College, had engaged 619 adults from September, 2013 to January, 2015, providing them with essential skills and access to FE courses.
LEDCOM also delivered a total of 22 courses on the EEP 2 programme – 13 in Larne, five in Ballymena and four in Carrickfergus, with 211 adults achieving the CCEA Level 2 Understanding Business Enterprise qualification – a 100 per cent pass rate. Of those, 125 were from Larne, 50 from Ballymena and 36 from Carrickfergus.
Many of the participants went on to achieve success in employment or self-employment or continued with further education.
This programme was an Enterprise NI initiative, part-financed by the European Social Fund, the Department for Employment and Learning, Enterprise Northern Ireland and Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne Borough Council under the Northern Ireland ESF Programme 2007 -13.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor Billy Ashe, said Government plans to shelve LAE would be “a tragedy”. He said: “The high number of participants has shown the real hunger for people to improve their circumstances and find real, lasting jobs. Organisations such as LEDCOM and the NRC have worked hard to provide new skills and offer support, assistance and hope. It would be a tragedy if this expertise is lost to a new generation of jobseekers.”
Ken Nelson, chief executive officer of the Local Economic Development Company (LEDCOM), said the cut could greatly undermine efforts to help disadvantaged individuals and groups find employment.
He said: “Our work on the LAE Programme over the past two years has shown the great demand and need for such initiatives.
“We hope that it will be reinstated in the near future if and when economic conditions become more favourable.”
He noted that 830 adults have “greatly improved their employment prospects” by participating in the LAE Programme or the Exploring Enterprise 2 (EEP 2) Programme.
These include mum-of-six Deborah McKibbin, from Carrickfergus, who has undertaken four courses, including EEP 2, and LAE courses in English, ICT and Crafts.
She said: “Everyone was welcomed with open arms and it gave us the confidence to get back out there and be valued. I will follow on and gain more qualifications and set up my own business.”
Rishi Kunwartook part in the LAE course in counselling and Jane Prendy participated in an EEP 2 Course in Larne. He has now completed his Level 4 in counselling and has applied for a foundation degree course at Belfast Metropolitan College, while his wife Jane used her new skills to set up her own business.
Rishi from Nepal and Jane from Larne are now living in Islandmagee and spearheading Hats Off For Nepal, a major fund-raising campaign to build homes for Nepal earthquake victims, which has amassed over £4.000 to build 10 new homes in the devastated region.
Rishi said: “The social media workshops on the programme have helped us to network with people around the world.”