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Why chambermaid faces rosier future;FE Focus

Claire lasted two days at her sixth-form college. Like many school leavers she found further education didn't match up to her expectations. Her information technology course "just wasn't for me", she says.

But things are looking up for the 17-year-old, who has been working as a part-time chambermaid since leaving school with five middle-of-the-road GCSEs. Under a well-established local authority scheme she has the chance of a job on a living wage with guaranteed training.

In leafy Richmond upon Thames a seven-year programme run by the borough council could provide a template for the Government's New Deal. The Way to Work scheme is described as "training with a difference". Participants receive on-the-job training leading to a national vocational qualification and a (regularly reviewed) wage.

Since it formed under the aegis of the council's education department it has found work for 130 young people. It has recruited staff for more than 100 local companies.

Where similar initiatives have failed, Way to Work has continued to grow - by around 35 per cent a year. There is 2 per cent unemployment in the area and the unit has found a niche in recruiting youngsters to small and medium-sized companies in the service sector.

Some of these businesses have little experience of taking on inexperienced staff and they appreciate the recruitment and training package Way to Work offers.

"We are different from other training providers because we don't do the training ourselves," says the unit's manger Dillwyn Rosser. "We are a kind of broker. We operate firstly as a recruitment service but we offer training that can blend into Modern Apprenticeships."

Around half the youngsters that walk into their offices have left college early, another third come straight from school and the rest are unemployed.

A typical starting wage is in the pound;90-pound;130 bracket but is subject to quarterly review. Employers agree to allow trainees six hours a week to complete NVQ assignments and they receive three weekly visits from assessors.

Completing the NVQ programmes (usually up to level 2 or 3) can take two years so that by the time they receive their certificates participants can be on a competitive wage. Without the distraction and extra administration of training courses, Way to Work is able to concentrate on establishing a good relationship with the youngsters. "The whole system is customised to the individual and that's something they haven't had before," says Mr Rosser.

Recruitment co-ordinator Mary Castledine says a good attitude and a willingness to learn can make up for mediocre qualifications: "If I had a pound for every one of them that says they could have done better at school," she sighs. "But achievement isn't as important for a lot of employers as a good record of attendance and punctuality."

She liaises with employers and helps them to draw up the job specifications which then go into a portfolio of vacancies. The youngsters choose a post that appeals to them and Mary gives them a pre-interview pep talk with the emphasis on encouragement. Having just missed out on her last interview Claire has pinned her hopes on a receptionist's job with a telecommunications company.

Beside the usual requirements, the employer has written "cheerful and friendly" in the margin. "There are six people going for this job so just remember to do the best you can," Mary advises Claire. "And don't be frightened to open your mouth!"

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