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We have arrived in Durham UK, the second part of our DukeEngage experience. At first, walks downtown and visits to the castle, cathedral and mines illustrated an obvious cultural contrast of culture between the two sister cities: Durham, NC thrived and built its city around the tobacco industry, while Durham, UK did the same with its coal mining industry, along with the medieval history/religion.

Over the past two weeks working at the Durham Employment and Skills (DES) office of the Durham County Council, I was able to learn about the economic and workforce development more directly.

DES has programs and services (ex. Work Programme) that support thousands of unemployed residents by providing them with vocational training and weekly counseling to help them back into the workforce. DES also specializes in training programs that cover a wide range of legislative, employment, and development subject areas of vocational courses for those who seek to expand their certifications tailored to their company’s needs. Additionally, DES helps businesses recruit qualified candidates for any vacancies. Overall, our goal is to increase client engagement in the Work Programme and to help market/commercialize the vocational training courses.

Throughout our initial research process, we have found that within the population of just over 500,000, the unemployment rate in Durham was 6.7% (16,400) in 2016, which is higher than the England and Wales figure of 4.9%. Meanwhile the workless makes up 10.4%. However, engagement in the Work Programme for the unemployed has been decreasing every month. Number of active members has dropped from around 3000 to 300 over the years. Nevertheless, when we interviewed four women today at the office about the Work Programme, we were surprised to hear their positive outlook on the program. One reason for their optimism, which resonated with us, is the fact that they were able to make friends and feel as they are part of a community. We realized that this sense of belonging would be key in encouraging members to be more actively involved in the program. The statistics and the interviewees’ helpful feedback serve as greater motivation for me to help tackle these challenges.

All in all, I am looking forward to another enriching two weeks here and hope to learn more about Durham UK from a local perspective!