Electronic flutters are the future...

6th August 1999 at 01:00
...for school-leavers on the tiny island of Alderney. Andrew Mourant reports

School-leavers in Alderney are being wooed into the local betting shop to do their apprenticeships.

Not, however, to gamble away their money in a smoky dive strewn with crumpled slips, but to Britain's first offshore on-line betting establishment.

For Alderney, population 2,200, the stakes are high - the Channel island is desperate to attract more e-commerce and become economically independent of Guernsey.

But it needs more young people with computing skills. And Sportingbet, which offers a tax-free electronic betting service to punters all over the world, is one place they can get them.

Since becoming operational last year, the company has become the island's biggest private employer, with 34 people.

Nicky Gaudie, Sportingbet's accounting manager, made the first move to create a link with the island's secondary school - with a view to establishing a system of training apprenticeships for when pupils leave.

"I rang Kevin Everett, head of St Anne's, saying I thought it would be a good idea to recruit a couple of leavers as office juniors," she said.

"We have an IT sector, and an accounting and administration sector. Then there is the customer service department dealing with the punters, and line managers who deal with odds and bets. If youngsters wanted to get involved in that I am sure we would welcome it."

The managing director, Mark Blandford, said "Alderney has a limited workforce and we see the training and apprenticeship programme has added ways in which we can develop skills to suit our needs.

With more information technology coming into schools it is a good example of education and industry working together."

For the most part, Alderney's economy survives on the staples of farming, fishing and tourism. One advantage of electronic commerce could be that more of the island's young people are tempted to stay.

Mr Everett does not believe his his teenagers will be corrupted by exposure to the world of gambling. "I have no moral objections. We're talking about IT rather than betting," he said.

"I suggested that we might get some of them up there to do some work experience and Sportingbet was taken with the idea. We may do that in the autumn term."

Jonathan Parmentier who left Alderney two years ago, has returned home to become Sportingbet's first IT apprentice. The company hopes more will follow as, over the last year, technology has been embraced in a big way at St Anne's.

The school, with a roll of 228, is about to install video conferencing facilities and 70 adults have already acquired a computer qualification on site.

Guernsey, which has responsibility for education on its smaller neighbour, has just approved pound;4.5 million expenditure on IT.

Rosemary Hanbury, the member of the Alderney States (the island's parliament) with responsibility for further education, said: "I visited Sportingbet's premises twice and was very impressed with their training facilities.

"Electronic gambling is ideal for Alderney. I don't think it's undesirable, I look upon it as a job. We're giving children the chance to go into e-commerce. Finance companies are going to come here as well."

Kent to sell IT packages, 8

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