Graduate Recruitment: A chance to be employable: Stephen Pritchard looks at a successful training scheme in the North-east that is attracting graduates to the area and finding them jobs

As miners at Wearmouth colliery, Sunderland, faced the closure of the last pit in the Durham coalfield, recent graduates were being interviewed for a scheme designed to bring vital new skills to the region's small firms.

Graduate Into Enterprise North-East (Giene) combines classroom-based training with a placement at a local business that does not have a record of graduate recruitment. The scheme aims to help firms and trainees: the company has the use of an extra pair of hands, usually to carry out a specific project, while the graduate receives valuable work experience.

Giene also addresses the problem of graduates leaving the North-east by encouraging more local firms to consider taking them on. It is one of a number of graduate training schemes belonging to the umbrella organisation 'Training for Work'; the exact way the schemes operate is decided by the various Training and Enterprise Councils (Tecs) according to local needs. Where Giene's scheme differs from others is in its emphasis on training the students before placing them with a firm; most schemes run training and placements side by side.

The programmes are run under contract from Wearside and Northumberland Tecs. Graduates must have been out of work for 26 weeks to take part, but they need no connection with the North-east other than a willingness to work there.

Ted Giblin, Giene's managing director, says students often choose university courses for the wrong reasons. This can be a handicap when the time comes to find a job, especially as firms prefer to see applicants who have relevant work experience.

'What Giene does,' he explains, 'is give graduates the chance to be more employable.' But his aims go beyond simply helping graduates to find work. 'We started the scheme in order to increase graduate retention - to get people to come here, and to convince people who study here to stay,' says Mr Giblin. 'Wearside's salvation relies on local people and the people that can be brought in.'

Currently, Giene offers courses in information technology, marketing, quality management and, most recently, environmental management for business.

Amanda Barnaby graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English literature and classics, but turned to a Giene programme to gain a grounding in business. She took the quality management course and went on to work for a manufacturing firm, Superior Pipelines. She now works for Twinings, the tea company.

'I wanted to be in management,' she explains. 'I had worked for a charity in London but I wanted something that would give me a future. My degree course had not set me up for anything specific.' A six-week training period in Sunderland was followed by the placement at Superior Pipelines. 'The placement was excellent,' she says. 'The training was intense, but the company was very supportive. It was putting into practice what I had learnt and it gave me self-confidence.' Amanda feels that the boost to her confidence was as important as the training. 'A lot of graduates come out into a bad economic climate,' she adds. 'You're promised that with a degree, you're made. It seems a bit cruel when you then come out with none of the rewards. The course puts you in touch with people in the same situation.'

David Arthur started Giene's information technology course after taking an HND in business information technology at Teesside Polytechnic. He wanted to continue to work with computers but had little luck with the job search after finishing at college. 'Giene was an addition to what I had done before,' he says. 'It was a chance to use more packages and to explore more in-depth IT management scenarios. But the main attraction was the placement - a chance to get a foot in the door somewhere.'

He succeeded in this, and now works full time as an information technology trainer with the Tyne and Wear Chamber of Commerce in Sunderland, his placement hosts. Although most Giene placements are based around a project, David found himself working as a trainer from the start.

'I came here on the Monday and the person I took over from left on the Tuesday. My biggest problem was learning packages there and then that I hadn't used before. I overcame that by taking the manuals home. It was a challenge but I enjoyed it. I would have learnt a lot even if the placement hadn't led to a job,' says David.

Karen Winrow, a graduate in electrical engineering, started on the Giene marketing programme hoping to find a placement with a firm in which her degree subject would be relevant. 'I thought I would be more comfortable in a technical company, working on the marketing and business side. That was a confidence thing,' she explains. 'I had six weeks of directed training at Giene. This included the basic theories behind marketing, and how it fits into the structure of a business.' She also continued studying for a professional qualification - the Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma - during her placement.

Finding a placement proved a struggle for Karen at first. She was unable to find an opening in a field related to her degree, so she resorted to speculative applications and was offered a placement at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, where she now works as a marketing and public relations officer. At the trust, Karen's work included a research project on charities that it could approach to raise funds.

She also worked on an assessment of the trust's trading company, Northumberland Environmental Services, investigating marketing strategies for it. 'It helps you to put into practice what you were learning on the scheme, including budgeting, planning and communications,' says Karen. 'That's how the placement functions: it's an aid to the learning process. One of my main reasons for going on the course was the practical element; that's what matters nowadays. Employers want to know that you can do the job.'

Graduate Into Enterprise North-east: Giene House, 50 Borough Road, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear SR1 1XW. Course vacancies are advertised in the local press and through careers services.

(Photograph omitted)

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