Evangelists put jobless people on the path to work: A church group helps a third of its trainees find employment. Ian Gregory reports

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The Independent Online
EXACTLY 10 YEARS after the number of long-term unemployed people passed the 1 million mark during the last recession, the number who have been on the register for more than a year is again expected to pass the 1 million mark today.

Analysts say the figure is an underestimate because hundreds of thousands of people who remain jobless after finishing Employment Training are counted as fresh claimants.

The proportion of ET leavers gaining jobs fell to 19 per cent in March 1992 - the latest national figure available. In south London the picture is worse. Of people leaving the South Thames TEC - the Training and Enterprise Council, which provides ET courses - in September, only 10.3 per cent got jobs. With ET costing pounds 3,500 per trainee, that works out at nearly pounds 35,000 for each person coming off the dole. Yet in the same area a group run by a coalition of evangelical churches and funded by businesses, including British Telecom and Marks & Spencer, is getting long-term unemployed people into work for less than pounds 1,800 each.

Whereas the year-long ET courses are based on reskilling, the four-week course run by the Peckham Evangelical Churches Action Network (Pecan) concentrates on remotivating unemployed people by making them aware of their skills.

Established three years ago, Pecan gets 35 per cent of its trainees into work - more than three times the rate achieved by South Thames TEC.

Pecan has an open-door policy for unemployed people on the estates it serves. Its recruiters go door to door trying to persuade them to go on the courses.

'We reach the parts government schemes fail to touch,' Pecan's managing director, Simon Pellew, said. His staff have knocked on about 80,000 doors in three years.

John Tedder, of the accountant Coopers and Lybrand, which helps fund Pecan, said: 'I shouldn't use the word 'kidnap', but their recruiters are very persistent. The end of the market they are dealing with is not only not ready for jobs. They are people who have given up all hope of even getting on to a course.'

Roger Morton of BT, which has given Pecan pounds 30,000, said: 'It's not just a question of putting up a poster. It's about going out and grabbing people.'

Kimberley Fernandes, a mother of six, who had not worked for 10 years, said: 'Pecan started knocking on my door, pestering me. I said I would go just to get rid of them.'

Eventually she did attend a course. 'What they gave back to me was a confidence that I had lost bringing up the kids.' After deciding during the Pecan training that she wanted to be a midwife, Ms Fernandes, who has no academic qualifications, went on an access course for nursing. 'I did an exam - the first exam I have done. And I got a distinction.' She hopes to study midwifery next year.

Ushma Patel, a former personal assistant at the collapsed bank BCCI, attended a Pecan course last month and yesterday started work as a PA in a hotel. She said: 'When I was at BCCI I was so confident about myself. But over the past two years I lost everything, even feeling I was no good as a secretary. Before the course I couldn't even talk to you because I was so low.'

Jane Romanowska, of Well come plc, a Pecan sponsor, said: 'Having interviewed both graduates and experienced professional staff I felt that the Pecan trainees were in some cases better in the way they handled questions and their assertiveness.'

Paul Convery, of the Unemployment Unit, a research group, said: 'Pecan regard themselves as having a moral mission. They are driven by sense of religious duty which is stronger than the civil servant motivation of doing what your job description says, or the profit motive in a commercial enterprise. That's why they're successful.'