With a view to a skill...

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EMPLOYERS and young people defended an under-fire work experience scheme at a skills event in Hemel Hempstead.

Government-backed work experience has been criticised in the national press as slave labour but there wasn’t a hint of criticism among those at Dacorum Business Exchange on Wednesday.

Matthew O’Conner, of Herts-based grounds maintenance firm John O’Conner told 50 delegates at Shendish Manor that of 55 work experience placements at his company, 13 had gone on to gain jobs with the company or be taken on as Apprentices.

He said: “Work experience is breaking down the barriers between young people and employers.

“If we were to depend on interviews alone, many of the candidates would not necessarily be viewed as employable.

“But if we take them for four-to-eight weeks we can get to know them and establish skills for young people.

“We give them time off for CV-writing and work experience can feed into Apprenticeships. There are really good benefits on both sides.”

John O’Conner employs 400 people, half of them in Hertfordshire, from its base in Welwyn Garden City. It has worked closely with Jobcentre Plus and after initial reluctance, is fully engaged.

Max Clifford, an Apprentice at John O’Conner and an ambassador for Apprenticeships in the county, told the audience he had left school with three A Levels but little knowledge of how to get a job or what Apprenticeships were.

He said the state-backed work experience scheme had helped him show “I can do the job”. It was, he said, very good for developing skills and an understanding of business.

Representatives of Jobcentre Plus outlined a plethora of schemes under the Get Britain Working campaign designed to help get the 2,354 claimants of Jobseekers Allowance in Dacorum off the dole queue and into work.

The schemes include Work Clubs, where employers can pass on hints and tips to unemployed people and sector based work academies that offer pre-employment training and placements.

Employer David Furnell, vice-chairman of Maylands Partnership, told the breakfast meeting he is an Apprentice of the class of 1965-1967.

He said he was “worried about the quality of young potential employees” asked for more help and assistance from the authorities. “Keep on talking to us,” he said.

Lisa Devayya, Dacorum Borough Council’s learning and skills regeneration officer said a new Dacorum Employment and Skills Partnership Board is looking for employers to join and help formulate borough-wide action.

“We want a well-skilled workforce and a create a steady stream of candidates who are ready for work,” she said.

Becky Jones, of the University of Hertfordshire’s careers and placements service, said degree students could provide many talents and benefits for potential employees. The 24,0000 students at the university could help companies via internships, work experience and 48-week placements as a part of their sandwich courses.

“Students can offer new ideas, enthusiasm, the skills to help businesses innovate and they can help businesses identify future talent,” she said.