WORK EXPERIENCE is booming in sparsely-populated Ceredigion after the council simplified guidance for employer-assessment of pupils.
Schools in the rural county had been told to focus placements on farming and tourism. Take-up by other businesses had been poor, with many reluctant to take on weekly placements - a major part of the new vocationally led 14-19 learning pathways initiative.
At Penglais school, situated on the outskirts of Aberystwyth, a chance to take an NVQ in customer service for Years 10 and 11 has also brought other non-rural businesses on board - including high street stores. Other placements are tied to council-run leisure centres and libraries.
Students spend one day a week on their placements, and more employers are signing up to take young people on. Some have already been offered jobs.
Margaret Fitches, a teacher from the school who oversees work placements, says the growth of employer co-operation is largely down to the user-friendly packs that provide advice on the assessment and monitoring of pupils.
Instead of a verbose document filled with jargon, the streamlined packs give employers an easy-to-use tick-box option to mark students on their performance.
"Our work at Penglais proves schools can collaborate successfully with employers, despite problems such as geography and sparse population," she said.
Fears that schools in rural parts of Wales would find it harder to join the 14-19 revolution have already been widely acknowledged. And in his final report under contract, Peter McGowan, Wales's vocational skills champion, said more collaboration between schools and industry was essential.
Albert Gilbey, deputy head at Penglais and the school's learning pathways co-ordinator, said finding appropriate work placements for his pupils had been difficult. But the school's pro-active approach to employers had helped.
Working with Careers Wales, many of the in-school projects are also business based. In one, pupils learn business skills by running virtual wine stores.
The school, which is piloting the Welsh baccalaureate, has decided to focus more on preparing Y10 and 11 pupils taking the diploma "The Welsh bac was a total shock to our first cohort, they had never done anything like that before," said Mr Gilbey.