Stepping stones to a working life

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Janet Boyle reports on a programme aimed at attuning children to industry's needs.

YOUNG PEOPLE from the age of five are learning about the workplace and are being prepared for employment by an ambitious programme which sets its sights on instilling confidence and achievement.

A project run by Glasgow's Education Business Partnership - the Aim High programme - has a series of learning stepping stones which are tailored to the needs of primary and secondary schools.

According to partnership manager Alex Blackwood, the main aims are to make children aware of the changing nature of the workplace and reach into it for jobs and further learning.

Years of unemployment have lowered expectations among pupils and their parents. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this is the loss of incentive for some children to achieve their potential. Why bother when there is little reward?

That attitude is too negative, says Alex Blackwood. "Our principal aim is to change that by raising the level of achievement of pupils. It is vital to help young people realise their full potential by highlighting the worth of education and training, and the value of transferable skills."

The consequence of that is making jobs, training leading to jobs and tertiary education more accessible. The Education Business Partnership helps by offering the support of business, especially in areas of where young people are disadvantaged.

Guiding pupils into the workplace can only be done by co-operation with employers through projects which offer real experiences of work.

While thousands of employers in the city have been convinced of the worth of links between young people and business, the partnership's more difficult challenge is to persuade pupils and their families of the opportunities presented by this. "We have to let pupils see that the workplace has changed vastly since their parents left school. Their expectations of a job for their child in a large, almost paternalistic, company is unrealistic.

"Companies such as Singer's sewing machine factory which employed 14,000 at its height of success in Clydebank, is a case in point. Now young people have to seek opportunities with smaller firms and in areas which some regard as what is traditionally viewed as "women's work."

The growth of tourism and the hotel industry are examples of how the market-place has changed. The leisure industry and the impact of sports science also offers new opportunities for school-leavers.

Preparing them for successful entry is done not only by forging links with employers, but preparing young people from primary school to sixth year. Older pupils are taught how to present themselves for interviews and how to communicate and thrive on work experience.

Not only do pupils visit the workplace, but it comes to the classroom through employee visits. "An accountant from KPMG will explain in a modern studies lesson the role of accountancy in the health service for example," Alex Blackwood said. "We also invite into schools positive role models such as women from traditionally male occupations and soon we hope to have a woman doctor who has a successful medical career as well as coping with spina bifida."

Primary pupils are busy creating their own toy factories and exploring technology through a mobile unit funded by Scottish Power which will soon tour Glasgow schools.

Alex Blackwood stresses that this is only possible through the co-operation of a panoply of bodies, including the Glasgow Development Agency, the city council education department and the careers service. "Above all," he says, "we are encouraged by the commitment of the pupils, many of whom are now successfully placed in industry and further education."

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