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A helping hand

Until nine months ago, students at West Bridgford school saw their local Asda supermarket as somewhere to buy sweets or find a part-time check-out job. The store is less than 300 metres away from the Nottinghamshire school but few students really appreciated what happened inside or the jobs on offer. "They had no idea how the organisation worked," says West Bridgford's careers co-ordinator, Ailish D'Arcy.

But all that changed for 16 pupils last October when they spent two days with Asda staff as part of Business In the Community's Workwise scheme. Not only did they discover more about Asda, they were also given tips on how to apply for jobs. When West Bridgford held mock interviews for all Year 11 pupils two months later, the 16 who had taken part in Workwise stood head and shoulders above the rest.

"They were able to talk more confidently about themselves," says Ms D'Arcy.

"Asda's staff gave the students a sense of valuing themselves and helped them recognise their strengths and think about what employers are looking for."

Workwise was launched in 2003 to help students aged 14 and older gain communication and other skills to make them more attractive to employers.

To date, 25 schools have taken part in programmes with Asda or other employers.

Programmes can be run in the workplace or employees may visit students in schools. "It gives a real-life context to softer or employability skills by putting them in a business setting," says Mike Brophy of Business In The Community.

In Nottingham, most activities took place at Asda's training centre within its West Bridgford store. Pupils looked at how news is reported in different newspapers and how stories are sometimes manipulated by spin doctors.

Adele Woolgar, Asda's store training manager at West Bridgford, says it demonstrated to pupils how they should always tell potential employers the truth. "Providing you're honest about things, you can put across a clear message," she says.

An added bonus for pupils, who were taking the Youth Award alongside GCSEs, was that it helped them with a project that required them to take an in-depth look at a company: its structure, work patterns, and recruitment policies.

Other companies taking part in Workwise are Starbucks, the coffee cafe, BQ, the DIY specialists, and Reed Elsevier, publishers.

At City Academy, Bristol, Starbucks ran two programmes, one for key stage 4 business studies pupils and a second for sixth formers who struggled in their GCSEs. The second programme resulted in one six former being taken on as a trainee.

"Workwise gave him an opportunity of a job that he wouldn't otherwise have had," says Steve Spokes, the academy's programme leader.

More employers are keen to help schools as part of their corporate social responsibility agendas. In some companies, such as BT, staff work as volunteers in their own, as well as their employer's time. Earlier this year four BT volunteers visited Slough grammar school on Wednesday afternoons to help Year 11 pupils improve their speaking and listening skills as part of BT's Moving On project. The pupils had already watched the Moving On DVD, which helps youngsters to prepare for employment.

Teacher Alysson Taylor says it helped pupils to be "interviewed" for places in the sixth form by BT employees. "It meant they had time being treated as a grown up and learning grown-up skills."

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