Agony aunt

October 30, 1998

Is it worth trying to find enough work placements for my students when there seems to be a recession around the corner and every chance, therefore, that employers will be tightening their belts?

We do not yet know how it will go if there is an economic downturn. On the one hand, companies are less likely to have the time and money available to get involved in work experience, but on the other, employers get a service at reduced cost which could save them money. If the project works, for instance, the employer might decide to take the student on, saving on recruitment costs. So work experience can continue to expand as long as both parties have something to gain. At the same time, we do not want to raise employers' expectations too high and the centre will be researching ways of making the most of work experience for all involved. We are going to be focusing particularly on small- and medium-size enterprises that, typically, do not get involved but that could have a great deal to offer and to gain.

We have been offering a compulsory sandwich course here through boom and bust for 30 years and we think it is sustainable as long as both parties feel they are getting good value. You really have to work at work placements, it is a full-time job in fact to keep the respect of industrial collaborators. But if students are well thought of by the employer, they will take them time and again. It can become a virtuous circle and word soon gets around. It pays to be flexible in terms of lengths and timing of placements to fit in with the employers' requirements. And then support them properly throughout the placement. The employer knows the placement will come to an end, it is not expensive, they do not have to pay the student's pension etc and there is no long-term commitment. Some project work, we have found, can pay enormous dividends leading to organic growth. One of our students, for example, saved her company hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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Write to Alison Utley The THES. Admiral House. 66-68 East Smithfield. London E1 9XY. Fax. 0113 2502156. Email. alison.utley@dial.pipex.com.

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