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Commitment pays off

Business and education are forging strong ties in Fife and winning awards, writes Elizabeth Buie

KIRKCALDY HIGH AND MGt, one of Fife's largest employers, didn't always enjoy a close working relationship. Two years ago, the company, which specialises in providing customer management and technology solutions to digital broadcast and new media markets such as BSkyB and Freeview television, was fed up with the quality of employees it was taking on from local secondaries. All too often, pupils were unable to show a basic understanding of the commitment required to retain part-time employment.

Now, however, even the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown a former Kirkcaldy High pupil and leading proponent of business and education partnerships would be proud of the result. So successful has the relationship become that Kirkcaldy and MGt were voted winners of the best employer partnership category in the recent Scottish Education Awards.

The school and local business run a Business Ready programme to prepare pupils to enter work. Initiatives include shadowing on MGt sites, job application and interview skills. The company also funds a breakfast club in the school as part of its commitment to the community. The drop-in club was started by Lorraine Lister, head cleaner, and school nurse Rhona Trail, who realised that some children skipped breakfast before coming to school.

MGt's employee numbers have rocketed to 1,700 in just eight years and it has a turnover of more than pound;21 million. As many of the workforce are part time, covering even-ing and weekend shifts, MGt offers a choice of working hours for full-time pupils. But too many did not have the right attitude to work until recently.

Gwen Kinghorn, headteacher of Kirkcaldy High, explains that, from the school's perspective, it seemed as if the company was offering jobs to pupils without having due concern for their existing studies.

Recognising their mutual dissatisfaction, the two enterprises decided to work together. The resulting Business Ready programme involves:

* MGt providing speakers to give talks to students;

* work-shadowing opportunities;

* teaching job application skills;

* interview preparation;

* workplace tours;

* general business orientation.

Carla Jennett and Ashley Knight are two of the 40 business education pupils who took part in sessions delivered by MGt, which helped prepare them for work and also outlined the career opportunities in the company for people with different qualifications. Both have had permanent part-time jobs for the past year and are going to Adam Smith College next term to study social care, but they will continue working part-time for MGt.

Every Saturday and Sunday, Carla works in MGt's call centre for ECL (early customer life-cycle) support department. That involves, for instance, handling inquiries from a new BSkyB customer who has signed a contract and is waiting for an engineer to come and instal equipment. Carla received two weeks' training and has been working weekends for a year. Working with people of different ages has been good preparation for her future career, she thinks, as has the discipline of the working hours.

"At school, you don't realise how difficult it is to work proper hours because you go to class and have a break, and then another class and a break, and then another couple of classes and then it's lunchtime," said Carla.

She also enjoyed the business education sessions delivered by MGt as it made her realise the range of jobs the company offered to people as they gained qualifications.

Mrs Kinghorn sees the range of jobs within the company as one of its strongest attributes.

MGt now has the school's calendar and ensures that training sessions do not clash with dates of important assessments. It also allows pupils to reduce hours when revision is important.

"Both MGt and Kirkcaldy High benefit from our partnership because what is covered is pertinenet to the business world," said Mrs Kinghorn. "The programme provides opportunities to manage expectations and introduce students to working life within a supported and familiar environment, easing the transition, for those who choose to take it, from full-time education into full-time gainful and successful employment."

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