A positive sea change

Sarah Strickland finds a course that led jobless engineers to develop a taste for fish and ale
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There can be few tutors who actively hope that their students will disappear before the end of the course, but Alex Towells is one of them. A management studies teacher at City College, Norwich's management centre, last year he decided it was time to make his expertise and excellent contacts with local employers available to jobless graduates in the hope of finding them employment.

The course, funded by the European Social Fund, began last May and, to Mr Towells's delight, by its conclusion last month only four of the original 25 students were left. Three had fallen by the wayside but the rest had found jobs.

The 29-week course leads to a Certificate in Management Studies (CMS) for those who complete it. Those who leave early can finish their studies during the mainstream evening classes at the college. Only graduates under the age of 25 who have been unemployed for a minimum of one year and a maximum of four can apply. A 10-week placement with a local company forms part of the course and students complete a project set by those companies. Contact hours are kept at just 21 per week so that students can still sign on and be available for work.

This year's students had degrees ranging from geology to philosophy, from aeronautical engineering to law. They were, says Mr Towells, a pleasure to teach because of their high motivation. "This is one of the most successful courses I have run and I believe the students have been offered jobs as a direct result of being on it. Mixing with each other revitalised them. It sparked off ideas and gave them the confidence to go out and get a job rather than stay in bed. The course gives them a basic understanding of business and management and gives potential employers a chance to see them in action as well as getting free consultancy."

Marc Brown, 23, is working as a trainee manager at the Sea Life Centre in Great Yarmouth. Not what most electronic engineering graduates would envisage for themselves, but Marc, like many others, has had to come to terms with a shrinking job market that demands utter flexibility and open- mindedness. After graduating in 1994, he spent 18 months looking for work, getting only about two months' temporary work and the odd plumbing and mechanical job. Like many fellow students, he had been unable to obtain a work placement while at university in Leicester.

"I thought I would find work when I began my degree," he says. "The lecturers made all these promises that we would get pounds 15,000 a year jobs. The CMS course has been the biggest help so far. It gave me a boost to be with other people in the same age group going through the same thing. We did a lot of problem-solving and team-building exercises. Just going to interviews for the placements was a help as I had no interview practice."

Marc was given a placement at the Sea Life Centre, where he did a project updating its system controlling hazardous substances. At the end he was offered a traineeship leading to the position of operations manager in six months. "I'm involved in budgeting, marketing and looking after the fish," he says. "I'm really happy with the job and find it very challenging. I'd never have got it if it hadn't been for the CMS course." He is completing the certificate during the evenings and thinks he may go on to do an MBA.

Garry Utting also graduated in 1994 and, like Marc, presumed his degree in mechanical engineering would lead to a job. But after 18 months of endless rejection letters, he was bored and depressed. "My mind was turning to mush just sitting around, doing the odd decorating job. I'd applied for jobs and traineeships all round the country, even looked abroad, but had no luck." The CMS course appealed because it offered a work placement. Garry spent 10 weeks at Adnams Brewery in Southwold, Suffolk, looking at forecasting demand for its products and managing stock levels. At the end he was offered a job as assistant stock controller. Again, not a graduate job, but Garry is delighted.

"My career has changed from mechanical engineering into supply chain management, possibly logistics," he says. "The course opened my eyes to other ideas, got me thinking in a managerial way. My job title is limited but what I actually do is try to sort out computer and stock problems. With two or three years under my belt, I'll be able to move on."

Andy Wood, logistics manager at Adnams, agrees: "A lot of graduates are bright but very naive about work and what it really involves. This sort of programme gives them the opportunity to move away from theory and learn to work with people."

City College hopes to gain funding for another course, to start early next year. Anyone interested who lives within daily reach of the college should write to the Management Centre, City College, Ipswich Road, Norwich NR2 2LJ.