Ben Russell reports on the way one bank introduces students to the earning life.
WHEN TEENAGER Daniel Swords was thinking about work experience he decided to try his luck in the City of London. The 17-year-old, studying for an intermediate GNVQ in business and GCSEs in English and maths, got his wish and landed three weeks at the Chancery Lane branch of the NatWest.
"It's nothing like I expected," he said, "I expected just to be answering the telephone, faxing and photocopying, but I have been doing proper bank work. "
Work experience has moved on from the days when youngsters simply spent a week in a company doing what came along. Students have to write up their experiences, and need to look at health and safety, personnel and office organisation instead of peering into the bottom of a kettle.
Daniel's three weeks at the bank started long before he turned up on day one. He had a thorough interview with assistant manager Ruth Sullivan before confirming his interest. She then went away to tailor his stay to the needs of his course and the requirements of his school.
She estimates she spends a full working day preparing for each young person's visit. She says: "Every new member of staff has to have support for them. Young people from school are not new staff members, but if you do not spend a little time thinking about it, they will not get the most out of coming here."
The highly organised work placements are the tip of a huge education effort undertaken by the bank.
The Face 2 Face with Finance package offers schools a series of activities, and the help of a member of the bank's staff. Nearly 3,000 secondary schools have registered with the scheme and 3,000 NatWest staff have been involved since its launch in 1994.
The programme consists of a series of activities designed to make youngsters think about money and financial planning, ranging from sessions drawing up mock tenders, to activities planning the finances of mythical footballers or pop stars.
Teachers are invited to spend time at the bank to improve their knowledge, and students themselves can go on work placements. Programmes have been drawn up in collaboration with the bank's financial literacy centre at Warwick University. Senior figures at the bank insist that their scheme has been devised in an effort to raise general levels of understanding about finance, not as a means of promoting their own services.
Ann-Marie Blake, who runs Nat West's education programme, says research showing demand for education in personal finance prompted their efforts, and an investment of around Pounds 3 million over four years.
She says: "It's about telling people that there are these things which you are going to have to think about. NatWest is a bank, but there are other banks to choose from, and the youngsters need to have the skills to make appropriate choices."
And, she says, the programme has clear benefits for the development of the staff involved, benefits managers had seen in branches and banking halls.
"People involved in partnerships with schools said it had been beneficial. Line managers could see measurable differences in the performance of staff who had been involved.
"Some people said they were even more able to explain our products and services to customers because they had been working with children."