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'It is a full-time job just getting a job'

Employers are constantly complaining about school, college and university leavers being launched into the world of work without the necessary skills. Lucy Ward ask whether the latest training initiatives measure up to the task. At 23, Vanessa Frater is already a veteran of educational experiments. At school in Birmingham, she was among the first year-group to take GNVQs and modular A-levels, then moved on to take Leeds Metropolitan University's brand new business information management degree.

But her pioneering qualifications did not win her the career she sought, and she found herself road-testing yet another new course - the first fast-track graduate programme at the University of Central England.

Vanessa came to the programme via last autumn's graduate fair in her home city, having made 15 unsuccessful job applications since graduation. The course helped secure her a job as administrator for a centre promoting collaboration between business and the three Birmingham universities, Vanessa believes.

The practical projects and work placement were vital in turning the theory she had learned during her degree into firm experience."The programme sets realistic tasks to realistic deadlines and helps graduates understand what employers will really wantfrom them. I think only a minority genuinely understand that, and most have a very vague perception of what business is about."

The 15-week programme was intensive and exhausting at times, but occasional friction between strong personalities did not prevent firm bonds forming which could prove useful for future networking, she adds. Though Leeds Met offered useful careers guidance, Vanessa thinks universities could usefully include a module on the subject in all degree courses. "Graduates don't realise how tough it is getting into the career they want. It is a full-time job just getting a job."

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