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May the Future Forcebe with you...

Willis Pickard talks to the people behind a guide to getting the best out of education-business links that could soon be in use across Scotland. What could be done for this chap? He is a personnel officer with a large UK company who transfers from a branch in England to one in Scotland, but is totally unfamiliar with the separate Scottish education system and qualifications.

A training programme has been arranged for him but with pressure on the training budget, there may be a delay before formal training can begin.

This looks likely to affect the performance of the personnel department during the busy summer recruitment of school-leavers beginning in mid-February.

In Lothian his company could turn to Future Force, a guide which helps to turn the focus of attention of business-education links from benefits mainly to pupils and teachers to ones which directly can help industry and commerce.

The guide shows the kind of assistance our personnel officer could use through the Lothian Education Business Partnership, which is supported by the regional council and Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise (the local enterprise company). To begin with, a speedy half-day placement could be arranged for him.

Then the partnership's teacher placement coordinator could fix up a longer placement well before Easter. He would learn about the Scottish education system from the chalkface and would be able to return to work well briefed on how school-leavers should be evaluated during the imminent recruitment season.

Alasdair Ferguson, manager of the Lothian EBP, who visits several companies every week to discuss what his organisation can do for them, says that Future Force "is the most successful thing I have done in this job. When I show it to companies, the scales fall from their eyes."

Although companies regard links with local schools as useful in future recruitment, they have also wanted to use education in a broader context.

Future Force suggests that the benefits of businessschool links include producing better motivated and more confident staff, putting something back into the community, gaining access to resources offered in schools and colleges and influencing education policy as well as learning from the ways education operates.

National companies such as BP, Standard Life and Scottish Power had led the way, Mr Ferguson said, and his easy-to-use guide was intended to appeal to small and medium-sized businesses. He has been distributing it in conjunction with organisations like the chamber of commerce.

David Dimmock, education liaison manager for Standard Life and chairman of Lothian EBP, said at an international education-business partnership conference in Glasgow earlier this year: "From the business point of views EBPs are becoming the one-stop shop we are looking for.

"We must get involved if our businesses, our education system and our economy are to be healthy and vibrant.

"The local EBP must be seen as the coordinator as well as the lead education links body in its area and recognised by the Government as such. For long-term success finding must be secured" Mr Ferguson has been talking to the CBI and Scottish Enterprise about making Future Force available throughout Scotland. He is also conscious that business struggles to keep up with recent innovations such as the 5-14 programme, the Scottish version of a national curriculum.

With further developments on the horizon - notably the new Higher Still examinations in the final years of secondaries - Future Force mark two looks like becoming necessary.

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