London students get lesson in flying high

August 8, 2003

Students from London's modern universities are getting a helping hand up the career ladder by the capital's business organisation London First.

More than 20 large companies have taken on 45 students for paid work experience over summer, with the aim of improving their career opportunities. The scheme, which is in its second year, aims to increase that number more than tenfold in the coming years.

The students come from backgrounds that make them susceptible to being passed over by employers - they attend a post-1992 university or further education college and come from ethnic minorities.

Helen Folorunso of London First said: "Black and ethnic minority students are 28 per cent more likely to be underemployed or unemployed in London and that's compounded by the fact that, if you go to the wrong university, then you're more likely to be underemployed or unemployed."

She added: "Students who go to modern universities have low A-level grades and, if employers have 5,000 applicants with 2:1s, then they look at A-level grades."

The scheme attracted more than 600 applicants who were assessed by recruitment company Prospect Us. The results were passed to companies including Ernst and Young, Barclays and Transport for London, which then made their selection.

Some 32 per cent of applicants said their ethnic origin was Asian, 31 per cent black, 17 per cent white, 9 per cent Chinese and the rest were from other groups.

In a survey published this week, 62 per cent of employers said their main reason for taking on work experience students was to find permanent staff.

The survey of more than 100 employers, conducted by the National Council for Work Experience (NCWE), found that 73 per cent had recruited students on a permanent basis as a result of work experience.

Other reasons for offering placements were as a gesture to the local community/local student population (46 per cent); to undertake a specific project (39 per cent); and to cover busy periods (19 per cent).

Employers were asked what factors were important when recruiting students on placement schemes. Some 67 per cent said oral and written communication skills, followed by degree subject (63 per cent), degree class (48 per cent), work experience (46 per cent), technical skills or foreign language skills (44 per cent) and A-level grades (43 per cent).

Liz Rhodes, director of the NCWE, said: "Employers consistently say they want graduates with good employability skills and our research confirms that they find work experience an effective recruitment method.

"But still they are not coming forward in large enough numbers to provide sufficient placements. It's a classic chicken-and-egg situation."

A separate study found that students and graduates think work experience is more important to future employers than academic achievements.

While the numbers surveyed were small - just 1 people responded to the survey - almost twice as many (44 per cent) thought work experience was more important than their degree subject or class of degree (24 per cent).

Some 11 per cent believed their other interests and achievements were the crucial factor.

Taking account of talent
Akeelah Aubdool, 21, has just completed her final year of an accounting and finance degree at Kingston University.

Ms Aubdool is spending two months working as a purchase ledger clerk for Conran restaurants, where she is paid £16,000 a year.

She said: "I have always been interested in accounting. When I was 15 years old, I worked in accounts: my dad introduced me to it. It started out as an office job and I was learning something new all the time and I decided that's what I wanted to do."

Conran restaurants has been impressed by Ms Aubdool's performance in the office and has offered her a full-time job. But she has decided to turn down the post to aim for a job in which she can use more of what she learnt on her degree course.

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