Bright future for AkzoNobel's new starters as Bernicia pledges £3m to build aspiration, increase confidence, provide training, skills and new job opportunities

Four determined people have overcome major barriers to secure roles with leading paint manufacturer AkzoNobel – transforming their lives as part of a £3m investment by Bernicia in the region’s employment potential.

A programme of support for tenants and the communities they live in is helping people access new job opportunities with the support of a newly-created team of Bernicia employability experts.

As well as delivering Bernicia’s own award-winning apprenticeship and training programmes, the employability team work with schools, colleges, employers and a range of other partners.

Their work is building people’s self confidence – people who have found accessing work difficult – growing their aspirations and providing the training and skills they need to help them seize job opportunities.

Bernicia worked closely with AkzoNobel on its latest recruitment drive to fill four manufacturing support operator posts at its Ashington plant.

Sophie Thomas, Ryan Barren, Faruk Gun and Ken Gamlin are all now working as manufacturing support operators at  AkzoNobel after successfully passing a rigorous recruitment process which included a full-day selection session, two-week training programme and interview.

They have all overcome significant issues and hurdles in their lives, impressing all with their determination and focus to secure their dream job.

Bernicia is investing £2m into an employability programme to help its tenants and people living in local communities access job opportunities, creating an employability team of sector experts to work with regional employers such as AkzoNobel Ashington to find the people they need to fill job vacancies.

Bernicia has also pledged a further £1m to its charitable foundation, who work with a range of partners to promote financial inclusion and support people to pursue their talent and reach their potential.

A taster day in Ashington earlier this year staged by Bernicia and AkzoNobel attracted more than 60 people keen to find out more about the paints and coatings manufacturer’s vacancies.

Sophie, Faruk, Ryan and Ken proved themselves to be the outstanding candidates:

Ryan Barren

Ryan was long term unemployed, a palliative carer for his grandmother. Isolation and loneliness impacted his self-confidence as he battled to find work.

Sophie Thomas

Sophie worked as a seasonal cleaner at a North East holiday park, leaving her out of employment for six months every year, anxious and short of confidence.

Faruk Gun

Faruk sought asylum with his wife and two daughters in the UK from Kosovo in 2021 where he was a PE teacher and warehouse manager. He went to Ashington College every day to learn English to boost his chances of finding work.

Ken Gamlin

Ken worked as a handyman/barman at a rural pub and lost his job due to a seasonal downturn. He became homeless at the same time until Bernicia offered him a one-bedroom flat.

Sophie said: “Working at AkzoNobel will be a huge positive change for me – having the consistency of work is something I won’t need to worry about.

“I’ve never been successful in an interview, but Luke and Jackie at Bernicia worked with me and on interview day I was much more confident and using the techniques I learnt, I was successful in securing the role.

“I am so glad I pushed my boundaries as I’ve been massively rewarded working for an amazing company that has assisted me throughout. If there’s something you want to do, grab the opportunity with both hands as the feeling at the end when you succeed is indescribable.”

Faruk said: “AkzoNobel and Bernicia embrace diversity and constantly reassured me my English was strong enough. The change this will bring to my family is huge. Stability, financial security and providing for my family like I have in the past – this is the start of a bright future for us.

“On my first day I was really impressed that Luke had translated all the programme into Turkish for me. It meant I could follow along the presentations, I felt very included.

“Although I felt I did well in the interview I was shocked when I was offered the role.”

Jill Johnston, AkzoNobel Ashington site coordinator, said: “Being sustainably immersed in our community is built into the AkzoNobel Ashington site so when Bernicia approached us to be a part of this programme, we knew it was a great opportunity.

“It has been brilliant for us to have our new starters acquire valuable skills throughout the programme. While they have benefited from training and knowledge in many areas, we have recruited four competent new colleagues. It’s integral to our society that businesses build and sustain these relationships in order to support our communities.”

Luke Dargie, Bernicia employability business partner, said: “It was a pleasure to work at such an established company – Bernicia and AkzoNobel share similar values and so it felt very natural when teaching and preparing the team for interview.

“Over the three weeks we really bonded as a team. The professional training we provided and Level 2 qualification in health and safety meant everyone took home new skills and can look forward to a bright future at a world renowned manufacturer thanks to their hard work and dedication.

“The employability team is looking forward to working with more companies who are also involved with their communities.”

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Luke and Jill are pictured with Ryan, Sophie, Faruk and Ken outside AkzoNobel’s Ashington plant.