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`The new course gave me the edge'

Employers are constantly complaining about school, college and university leavers being launched into the world of work without the necessary skills. Lucy Ward asks whether the latest training initiatives measure up to the task. As job rejection slips piled up last summer for 24-year-old Richard Lunson, the management studies graduate realised large spaces on his application forms were going unfilled. Though he had no problem filling the box for educational qualifications, he had nothing to put under the vocational experience heading.

"I felt that was my undoing. The forms asked about NVQs. I wondered 'What's that'?"

After scoring two interviews and no offers from 30 job applications this time last year, and abandoning a dead-end insurance sales job, Richard visited the Birmingham graduate fair and enlisted for the first fast-track programme. After just 12 weeks of the course, he had received three job offers and accepted a post with his work-placement employer, a motor insurance firm .

Richard believes the drawback of his Cardiff University degree was its concentration on theory, without providing practical proof of management ability. The UCE programme, leading to an NVQ level 3, helped fill the gap. "The course gave me greater insight into management disciplines than anything I had learned at university or experienced in my previous jobs." The full-time programme also helped him sharpen up his CV and improve his interview technique.

After beating 250 applicants for his present job, most also graduates, Richard concludes: "The new fast-track course gave me the edge." His own experience, he believes, demonstrates the need for graduates to gather vocational strengths around their academic achievements.

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