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A flying start to future employment

MOST people expect to travel a few miles to college, but John Mitchell takes the plane.

A one-hour flight to Glasgow and another hour on the bus to Lauder College in Dunfermline, Fife, is not the usual idea of commuting but life in Scotland has to work round the landscape. If you think this sounds extravagant, the cheaper alternative is four hours on the ferry, another three on the bus, plus allowances for delays. It is a 500-mile return journey. His employers pay for the normal route, and John pays the extra if he flies. He spends three weeks at college and three at home. Only one other college in Scotland offers a similar course.

With five good-grade Highers, John could have gone to university, but there are few job opportunities for graduates in Stornaway. He likes the life in the Hebrides, and his hobby of motorcycle racing doesn't fit comfortably with a city existence.

Transco was offering some of the best-paid jobs on the islands and he had already decided he wanted a practical job that wouldn't be tied to an office desk. Gas installation and maintenance seemed just the thing.

A practical career also appealed to Martin Lawrie, currently doing an NVQ in gas installations and maintenance at North Trafford College. Work experience while still at school led him to apply for a fou-year apprenticeship with Bolton Council and he became one of 13 successful candidates out of 200.

GCSE grades were not an important part of the selection procedure and Martin puts people skills first on his list of requirements for the job.

"As soon as you go into a house you've got to communicate with the residents to find out what they need."

You also have to be organised and logical. The local housing association had its own specifications for central heating so the Bolton Council team had to be able to customise their designs. It can be a dirty job too, and not for the faint-hearted who cannot face what might be under someone's floorboards.

Gone are the days when the gas worker's tools came in a grubby bag which was dumped on the floor. As well as power tools, you now need sophisticated computers. Part of Martin's NVQ portfolio is to design an installation to fit given specifications, including letters to clients and all the other paperwork.

There may be no more "jobs for life" but the demand for workers far outstrips supply.

When John Mitchell and his friends meet for a drink and compare notes, what do they think about his decision to miss out on university and follow up an advertisement for job training instead? "They wish they'd seen it first," he said.

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