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The need to be up to speed

As managing director of a company with 600 employees, Greg Watson faces the classic problems of staff development. "We are modernising at a pace and need staff to come in and, almost from day one, handle lots of data, use sophisticated IT and manage projects.

"The pressures on us are no different to those you find in other companies," he says. The time they can afford bringing new staff up to scratch is getting shorter as the pace of change increases.

"Look at me: in education until 22, yet it took me a year or two before I could say I was contributing substantially to the workplace. I don't think employers can afford that luxury now. Young people need to be ready almost from the day they leave school, college or university."

Here lies the dilemma as Mr Watson sees it: frustrated employers bemoan the lack of skills among school and college leavers, while teachers feel they have no hope of keeping up with the changes. But he is positive. As managing director for OCR, he is with a company that claims to have a solution to equipping young people for the workplace. In fact, it has staked a large part of its reputation on solving such problems for others.

"We can provide support for students, reducing briefing and preparation time, providing space so schools can cut to the chase," he says.

Schemes such as the OCR Work Experience Quality Mark are intended to bring some rationalism and serve as a way of accrediting the school and pupils for what they achieve, he says. "They also help when preparing for Ofsted inspections. Equally important, when it comes to getting work placements, the Quality Mark is a signal to employers that the school or college will send willing and well-prepared youngsters who will not waste their time."

This scheme has been taken up by a variety of organisations including schools, colleges and work-placement organisers such as Trident and the education business partnerships.

The organisation applying for the Quality Mark starts by submitting an application with a range of evidence such as its work experience policy, student support and effective monitoring of placements. An OCR accreditor then carries out a stringent evaluation before recommending an award, which is renewed annually.

"If you are a school or college that has never done organised work experience or employer programmes, the prospect can be intimidating.

Equally for the employers, how do they know they are getting what they were promised?

For students, gaining work experience can change their lives. Holly McKechnie is doing A-level English, drama and biology at Bablake senior school in Coventry. Her ambition - to enter marketing - was confirmed during a work placement with Land Rover Global where she was helping a project team produce a hard-selling bulletin promoting a new Range Rover car to international franchises.

"I worked from eight to eight all week to get the project done because I needed to get something finished by the end of my week," she said. "It was a great experience which really spurred me on. It made me realise that I have got to work harder to get what I want to achieve."

Greg Watson is clear about OCR's approach. "As an accrediting body, we provide a quality assurance check list. We are able to give schools like this a quality plan. It is not dictatorial, but a model of good practice drawn across the field."

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