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East End passion broadens career choices

A skills shortage prompted Kesslers International, in Stratford, east London, to turn to apprenticeships.

"We were finding it increasingly difficult to get hold of metalworkers in particular," says Pauline Thackaberry, personnel manager at the firm, which makes merchandise display stands and cabinets.

It is a family firm with its roots in the East End. George Kessler, its managing director, is a former chairman of London's Training and Enterprise Council.

Kesslers was also keen to help young people into work. While travelling on international business, Mr Kessler saw how the UK lagged behind in training.

Now, after 10 years, some of the first graduates are in leadership posts and the firm typically has up to a dozen apprentices in areas such as metalwork, woodwork, plastics processing and tool-making. The programme has helped Kesslers to recruit more people from ethnic minorities in what is London's most ethnically-mixed borough, and bring women into a traditionally male profession.

Ms Thackaberry says the firm considered running its own scheme, and even saw one trainee through an NVQ. But pressures on staff time to assess trainees made it impossible to continue.

The firm recruits through local training organisations which have links to schools, through Connexions, local newspapers and websites. The recent government campaign prompted a big surge in applications. "It gave it a much higher profile and made apprenticeships seem respectable, which of course they are," Ms Thackaberry says. "Retention has been better as well."

She is, she says, passionate about the scheme as it helps to show young people a career path. "It is amazing to see how they develop," she says.

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