Step forward for jobless graduates

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The Independent Online
GRADUATE unemployment has gone up from 2 per cent to 5 per cent in the past three years. The main loser from this is British industry, which has taken a more short-sighted view of the potential of graduates than have our foreign competitors, according to Shell.

The company sponsors a graduate placement scheme, the Shell Technology Enterprise Programme (Step). And this year's, which began this month, aims to put 1,000 graduates into small businesses for eight weeks. The scheme is backed by training and enterprise councils and the Department of Trade and Industry.

The graduates have specific tasks to complete in their placements, designed to improve company efficiency or profitability. One small business improved profits by pounds 1m as a result of a placement.

Traditionally, graduates have looked to larger employers for jobs. However, after extensive restructuring in recent years, such companies are no longer employing many new graduates. 'As a blue-chip company, we want to get the message across that attitudes must change regarding the employment of graduates,' says Liz Rhodes, director of Step.

'Some small businesses have suspicions about the value of graduates. But they have been very pleased with what the students have achieved. It is like a breath of fresh air.'

S H Fiske, packaging manufacturers in Bristol, are enthusiastic beneficiaries of Step placements. Last year's student, Hilary Grist, a law and marketing graduate from De Montfort University in Leicester, wrote a market research report on the potential for a new product, padded board for desk diaries. The company expects it to add pounds 750,000m in sales to its existing turnover of pounds 1.5m.

Richard Jarratt, managing director of S H Fiske, said: 'The general benefit has been to bring a new way of seeing to the company. We have not used anything before of a marketing nature. The information she produced was amazing.'

Ms Grist found the placement equally positive. 'I got a lot out of it. It is really good to see how it came to fruit. It will be quite a little money-spinner, employing more people, and opening horizons into Europe.'

Ms Grist already had work lined up - she is now employed by ICL. But she says that the experience has improved her skills in a way that will transfer into other work.

Step is looking for more small businesses to be involved in the future, to satisfy the demand for placements from students. The graduates are paid a training allowance of pounds 100 per week. Half of this comes from the host company, the rest from a Step sponsor.

Step is at 11 St Bride Street, London EC41 4AF.

(Photograph omitted)