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It pays to test the water

Students are being encouraged to take a gap year and roll up their sleeves as soon as they leave school

One of the major complaints from companies recruiting graduates is that students often emerge from universities after four years with little or no hands-on experience or knowledge of the industries for which they are applying.

A newly established organisation, the Year in Industry in Scotland, intends to change all that by offering pre-university students a taster of the workplace from its base at the Scottish Engineering Industry Centre in Glasgow.

John Jack, the Year in Industry director for Scotland, says: "It was felt necessary to encourage more youngsters to go into engineering and electronics, for example, because there was a national shortage."

The scheme is designed for fifth and sixth-year pupils and though it originally focused on engineering it is also open to those involved in science, technology and IT.

The response so far has been encouraging although there are still more English students applying for places. "I have on my desk 37 applicants from England wishing to come up here," Mr Jack says, "but I would rather have Scottish youngsters from Scottish companies."

Taking a year out is still relatively unusual in Scotland. One student who had been interested by a talk about the Year in Industry on BBC Scotland changed his mind after being accepted by Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities. "There are a lot of youngsters about with good qualifications who could go straight into university, but some of them need a bit more time to mature," Mr Jack says.

A university drop-out rate of 20 per cent confirms the point, he believes. "If people had undertaken the Year in Industry they would get the skills, the confidence, the maturity and the knowledge which they could then apply to their university degree. I think you would find that their degree would be regarded as superior in the jobs market," Mr Jack says.

The experience may be hands-on when applied to the traditional craft skills, or it may be more theoretically based, involving IT and research. The companies agree to pay participants at least Pounds 140 a week while they are at work. In many cases, they will be employed on projects the company has not had time or personnel to work on.

The Year in Industry aims to give the students legal, health and safety, problem-solving, negotiation and presentation skills. Hopefully, this will give young people a better understanding of business and allow them to apply these skills in a wider setting.

The scheme has the potential to improve standards within the industries involved, Mr Jack says. "We want the creative people in those industries and that means the people with good degrees, good ambition, good motivation and drive."

The Year in Industry keeps a register of its students who, it hopes, will have a head start in landing jobs with other companies after they graduate if their parent company cannot take them on.

Mr Jack has written to every school in Scotland, the local enterprise companies, education-business partnerships, careers offices and university admissions tutors. But, he confesses, the message is still not getting through to school-leavers.

The Year in Industry can be contacted at 105 West George Street, Glasgow, G2 1QL (0141 221 3181).

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