Sixteen local unemployed people have gained permanent employment with the Henderson Group after taking part in the company’s work placement programme.

The Roots to Wings initiative is targeted at the workless or long-term unemployed, with the aim of getting them back into full or part-time employment by equipping them with skills and knowledge which will appeal to future employers.

The programme was designed by Business in the Community in association with Henderson Group, and this year attracted funding from the Department for Employment and Learning.

Other stakeholders include Local Employment Intermediary Service (LEMIS) providers who refer unemployed people onto the programme.

In the past two years six Roots to Wings programmes have involved 44 participants in day-long inductions focussing on customer services skills and health and safety, followed by two-week work placements at one of the Spar, Eurospar or Vivo stores owned by Henderson Retail in Northern Ireland.

Fifty per cent of those participating have subsequently secured jobs at the Henderson Group and other companies. One recent success involved four unemployed people from East Belfast, who were referred by Stepping Stones to take part in the programme. When they had completed their placements they were eligible to apply for vacancies within Henderson Retail and all four secured jobs.

Andrew Henry, who now works as a sales assistant at Belfast forecourt Spar Cherryvalley, after taking part in Roots to Wings, said: “The programme gave me a great opportunity to develop my skills and learn firsthand about the retail sector. The support given by both Business in the Community and Henderson Retail has been invaluable. I would like to thank Henderson Retail team for the continuous encouragement and belief in my ability.”

Nigel Gray, retail director at the Henderson Group, said: “We are thrilled with the outcome of this partnership. As a large employer in Northern Ireland, we are keen to support initiatives like Roots to Wings, which provides a vital service in equipping individuals with the skills and knowledge that appeal to future employers.

“We were highly impressed with the enthusiasm and dedication of those who took part, By offering them employment within our retail stores, we can keep working closely with them to further hone their skills. We believe it’s initiatives like Roots to Wings which help build stronger communities.”

Deirdre Timoney, director of business in the Community’s Employers’ Forum, said: “Getting individuals into employment when times are good can be a challenge.

“In the midst of difficult economic circumstances, the challenge is all the harder. Currently 27.3% of the working age population in Northern Ireland is economically inactive, ie without a job and has not actively sought work in the last four weeks, and/or are not available to start work in the next two weeks.

“Innovative employers such as the Henderson Group are to be commended for providing leadership and commitment with the Roots to Wings employability initiative, which moves such economically inactive people back into the labour force.

“Business in the Community hopes that other businesses will be inspired by Henderson’s fine example.”