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Growth and reinforced training provision at ‘Les Ateliers du Midi’

 - ©Cenforgil

The extension of ‘Les Ateliers du Midi’ has increased the range of courses on offer that support direct access to employment in sectors which are hiring. The project is supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).


2014-04-25 - For years now, the aerial manoeuvres of cranes, the comings and goings of trucks and the gradual progression of construction sites has been a part of life in the area around the Gare du Midi railway station. This is probably one of the districts of Brussels that has changed the most in the past decade. At 54 Rue de Merode in Saint-Gilles – a road that runs parallel to Avenue Fonsny – the building work in progress is modest compared with the giants that have sprung up in the local area. But once completed, the extension of what many people in Brussels know under the name of ‘Les Ateliers du Midi’ will assume its place in the world and host the new training programmes of Cenforgil.

On the street front, one building has already been reconstructed and occupied by the training centre’s activities. The façade is modern, a combination of timber with beautiful windows. Another building will be added on the right, extending a long way back from the street. ‘Originally,’ explains director Florence Fraipont, ‘the building was purchased by the municipality of Saint-Gilles. Funding from the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund – ed.) then made it possible to demolish and reconstruct the present building. Cenforgil is now managing the training project and running the place.’

The target public consists of individuals in a vulnerable or even socially marginalised situation because of their failure to complete their studies and/or find work. For these users, Cenforgil organises a series of courses that enable them to find work in sectors hiring new recruits in Brussels.

Training adapted to employment

To access this training, users must be over 18, be registered as a job-seeker with Actiris, and have failed to complete their secondary education or lack official qualifications for education completed in another country. Those who meet these criteria can access specific training. ‘In specific, targeted areas,’ says Florence Fraipont: ‘office automation, sport, electricity and hospitality and catering. The goal really is to give people practical training, often complemented with actual work experience.’

Those wishing to become an apprentice chef, waiter or bartender may practise in a cafeteria that has been created within the complex. Every day, members of the public from the local area can come and have lunch there, giving the trainees the opportunity to learn the practical skills they will need for the work that awaits them. It is almost noon when we visit, and people are emerging from the inner courtyard carrying takeaway meals – another service offered by the trainees for the occupants of the neighbouring offices, for example.

For work as an electrician, too, the approach is very practical. As a result, in this sector which remains buoyant despite the minor downturn due to the economic crisis, Cenforgil has a very good employment rate for its trainees (74% before the crisis). In office automation, meanwhile, partnerships have been forged with local associations, the municipal authorities, the Saint-Pierre Hospital and so on. For sport, the situation is a little different. Cenforgil now provides training only, while Saint-Gilles Sport is responsible for practical experience at the municipal facilities nearby.

Two new modules

Some new modules will be added to this basic provision in the second half of 2014. ‘We have looked at two new areas: green building and new technologies,’ says Florence Fraipont. ‘Initially, we started with solar panels. Then we had to think again when demand for solar fell, so we returned to electricity and have designed an additional module in green building. From September 2014 all trainee electricians will also receive training in environmentally friendly electrical installations.

The ‘new technologies’ programme has also been redesigned. Cenforgil has taken on board the demand from the events sector in Brussels. The social economy enterprises that set up Bruxelles-les-Bains, for example, lacked qualified personnel. In October 2014, a specific training course will be started in sound, lighting, video and stage technology, in an educational workshop specially designed for the programme. Learning in the workshop will be followed by supervised work experience at social economy enterprises in the events sector.

‘The goal of the process that has been put in place is to ensure the employability of those who have attended the training, or, as a secondary aim, to enable them to specialise. Cenforgil is a training centre that is able to dispense qualifications, working in conjunction with businesses to ensure that trainees are prepared effectively for the workplace. And all the trainees who pass through here,’ stresses Florence Fraipont, ‘also receive psycho-social support. The goal is for them to be able to focus on acquiring new knowledge, despite the difficulties associated with housing, debt, finding childcare places and so on. This increases students’ success rate.’

Office buildings are not the only ones to thrive in this neighbourhood, then. Leaving Cenforgil and ‘Les Ateliers du Midi’, you have the sense that this is a training facility available for those who need it – a facility that really cares about people in difficulties and is working to prevent them from dropping out by helping them find employment. 

Jean-Pierre Borloo

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