Added draw of earn as you learn

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AT THE age of 22 Nick File has already had a succession of jobs, ranging from nightclub croupier to labourer. But now he has just started to combine his latest one with a BSc course in management at London University.

He is among the first 100 recruits to a pioneering venture launched earlier this year by Coca-Cola Schweppes Beverages - a business formed seven years ago by Cadbury Schweppes and Coca-Cola. The soft drinks company was looking for staff who could be trained to spread the concept of merchandising to counter the threats from competing suppliers, supermarkets establishing their own brands and consumers with changing buying habits.

The idea - which is already popular in the United States - involves attempting to increase sales by such methods as improving the display of goods and ensuring that outlets are kept well stocked. In the words of Derek Williams, the company's managing director who developed the Frontline initiative with manpower director Keith Dennis, this requires a different type of person with 'a fast mind and a young body'.

When the company launched the scheme, dubbed ''earn as you learn', it was besieged with applicants. Within hours of the first advertisements appearing in the Independent there were 300 inquiries. Eventually, 5,000 candidates applied for 100 places.

Mr Dennis said he was 'absolutely delighted' with their performance. 'The kids are doing well and proving effective in the market place,' he said. He is so impressed that he plans to launch a follow-up aimed at those taking their A-levels next summer.

The scheme involves combining a 35-hour working week with 20 hours of study a week for four years in return for an initial salary of pounds 7,500 and the use of a van. Those who are already on it come from a variety of backgrounds. They range from those who have just taken A-levels and opted not to go straight to university to those, such as Mr File, who did not want to study full time.

'It is difficult to tell whether it will be hard work,' he said at the end of his first week at university. But having done the job as a merchandising trainee for the past four months, he is confident that he can organise his week appropriately. 'You have to be careful how you arrange things,' he said.

Mr File, from Warwickshire, is also excited about being involved in something that has not been tried before.

Mr Dennis, who says future recruitment will take place in September, to tie in with the academic year, feels the venture could pave the way for others. 'A number of our customers are starting to take note. I think it will catch on,' he said.

While the scheme will not be an easy ride, he believes it is an easier option than that faced by many of today's students, who - through doing part-time jobs while studying full time - are often working 100 hours a week and incurring large debts. And it could produce the executives of the future.

'I'm more and more convinced that these people will be unbeatable. They will have commercial experience and a degree and not have bankrupted their parents along the way,' he said.

'It would be nice to think that in 10 to 12 years' time, these people will have come through to the top of our organisation.'

(Photograph omitted)