Business

Hopes and fears in the south Wales valleys

Clinton Dix
Image caption Clinton Dix was out of work for a year but is now on a training course run by British Gas

The labour market is hard to read. Employment is rising but unemployment remains high.

And in some pockets of the country job creation remains elusive.

All that is visible in the south Wales valleys, where former coal mining communities are having to adapt to the 21st Century economy.

On the face of it the Blaenau Gwent local authority has an uphill struggle to find work for its local people.

The unemployment rate for the area last autumn, the latest figure available, was 13.4%, well ahead of the Welsh average of 8.2%.

The narrower measure, covering those signing on for jobseeker's allowance, was 6.8% in April, again well ahead of the comparable Welsh figure of 3.8%.

A pioneering initiative JobMatch helps the unemployed gain skills and prepare for interviews. It seeks out local employers to gauge their needs and find out whether they can offer opportunities.

Steve Dobson from JobMatch says Blaenau Gwent and other valleys communities face major challenges helping the unemployed.

"With the demise of the coal and steel industry, there are instances of families - three generations sometimes - that haven't worked. Grandfather, father, son all claiming benefits," he says.

"And as a project we've tried to address that and have engaged with the whole family sometimes to support them and try to help them all into employment."

'Disheartening'

Olivine Henry moved to south Wales in 2005 when her husband's work with a government agency required him to move.

Image caption Olivine Henry is having a hard time looking for work

She worked, mainly from home, for a publishing company.

But both subsequently lost their jobs. He is now a taxi driver and she has been job-hunting for a year with no luck so far.

"I've registered with several agencies - they send me jobs that come up. But many of them are too far away or they really don't pay enough," she says.

"Those that I do apply for I very rarely get a response. That's very disheartening because I know I have the experience they are asking for [and] I don't even get called for interview."

But a few hundred yards from the JobMatch office in Tredegar where Mrs Henry is meeting her advisers, there is a positive story about employment and new openings.

Taking on trainees

British Gas has just opened a training academy for green energy engineers.

The group sees energy efficiency and domestic solar power as a commercial opportunity. This year it is creating more than 1,000 new jobs across the UK in this area of the business.

Ten trainees at the Tredegar centre are learning how to install smart meters, insulation and rooftop solar panels. They are taught the skills on life-size "dummy" houses specially created in a warehouse section of the site.

British Gas has promised that six out of the 10 trainees will get full-time jobs.

Image caption Trainees practise on "dummy" houses

Clinton Dix is hoping to be one of them.

Previously he had worked in a local factory and then at a jewellers before becoming unemployed. He found it hard to get back on the ladder.

"There were very few jobs for the 12 months I was out of employment - I couldn't get an interview. I found it very hard to get my feet in the door," he says.

But then the opportunity at British Gas came up.

"It was a new lease of life, somewhere to come and learn and gather skills. It's a very good training course," he says.

The new training academy is used by employees from around the UK as well as locals.

That has boosted the local catering and guesthouse trade.

It is just one example of regeneration for this valleys community which has come not a moment too soon.

Tredegar and the other local towns can only hope more comes their way.

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