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The last day of work was a whirlwind of work and emotions. We stayed in our office area the entire day, completing our strategic report for DES. When we printed the final copy, we felt a sense of accomplishment but also an overwhelming feeling of sadness of not being able to work every day with each other and the lovely staff at DES.

Over the past few weeks of conducting research on the county, the organization and the Work Programme, we developed new perspectives about the Durham UK community and economy. We interviewed unemployed citizens who would check in weekly with their counselor who helps them with their CVs, job search and finding external support/resources. The responses we got from the interview guide contributed to restructuring and marketing ideas that could both promote the Work Programme to the unemployed demographic of the community, as well as the Vocational Training Services.

This aspect of our project helped further our understanding of some underlying factors of Durham County’s relatively higher unemployment rate. From what we learned through the DukeEngage enrichment activities and direct interactions with community members, the decline of the mining industry had a huge impact on the economic stability of Durham. There is a continued sense of pride, especially among older generations, on being part of the “working class”. Further, people are more attached to their area of residence. The result is a surplus of unskilled workers, families’ reluctance to send kids to university, and less workers working to larger cities/companies elsewhere. We also learned that many of DES’s clients suffer from mental illness or simply do not have the motivation to find jobs and prefer to live off of their unemployment benefits. These factors all contribute to the decline of Durham’s economy.

The second main project we took part of is to analyze data collected from last year’s vocational training courses. We conducted significance tests to measure confidence levels, derived a metrics formula to determine the success of the programs, and created a flowchart to personalize a list of bespoke courses for employers. I gained deeper insight on the organization’s progress and the demographics surrounding employability in Durham, and learned how to effectively apply knowledge we gained at Duke so far.

When I first arrived at DES, I had an idealistic expectation that simply coming up with ideas and carrying them out would help solve some of the organization’s problems. However, I quickly realize that there are so many external and internal factors such as Brexit, culture/traditions, government structures and mental/physical illnesses that render “perfect solutions” frankly non-existent. Nevertheless, the ideas we had for these projects seemed intimidating at first, but we ended up accomplishing more than we expected to.

Throughout this process, we have gained valuable experience, knowledge and new perspectives. Although our time in the UK was shorter than our time in NC, everyone, including the DES office welcomed our presence and accepted us as a part of the staff team. I would like to thank everyone–the program leaders/coordinators, staff members, fellow student participants (now great friends), and the community members we served–for an incredibly humbling and eye-opening summer. I hope to be able to continue serving my community while at Duke and beyond in meaningful and impactful ways. Thank you again, DukeEngage!