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An Apprentice-style scheme in Inverclyde is helping young people to learn business skills and find employment. Jackie Cosh explains.

Earlier this month, Megan Duffy, from Gourock in Inverclyde, was announced as the overall winner of The Recruit – a personal development programme based on the television series The Apprentice.

Amazingly, Megan receives a prize including a position paying £14,000 a year with T-Mobile and a course of driving lessons. A further 11 recruits, who are all from the fifth and sixth year, also secured jobs with a number of local businesses including five more roles at T-Mobile, as well as jobs at Inverclyde Council and RBS. 

The Recruit was introduced six years ago by Inverclyde Council and has proved a successful scheme from the start – in its first year it directly resulted in seven young people being offered jobs. 

Since then large employers such as IBM, RBS, and Hewlett Packard have supported the scheme and offered young people jobs based on their performance during the programme. 

From April to August, 35 young people from S5 and S6 put in 400 to 500 hours of their own time to take on a range of activities aimed at developing their self-confidence, equipping them with the necessary skills, and preparing them for the business world. 

The process begins with the programme co-ordinator visiting secondary schools where he speaks to fifth and sixth years and shows them a video of what to expect. Youngsters from all schools in the local authority are then invited to apply via a thorough application form. 

Questions include posers such as “if you became someone of incredible influence what would you change and why?” and “if you could have any business leader in your team past or present who would you have and why?”.

While the young people who apply tend to be very bright and academic this is not the defining criteria, and it is how they sell themselves and answer the questions that matters. 

Applicants are screened by a panel of five from the council’s education department and from local businesses, and the top 35 are invited on to the programme.

Seventeen-year-old Taylor McGee was not planning on getting a job out of The Recruit when she applied last year. 

She explained: “I didn’t go in with the idea of going into business. I went into it for the experience, wanting to go to university to study medicine. But after being in The Recruit it totally changed my perspective of things and I thought business was the way to go because there are so many opportunities. I think if I hadn’t done Rhe Recruit I would have stuck with medicine, but it was a real eye-opener for me to the whole business world.”

The programme begins in April when the youngsters attend a three-day outward-bound challenge where they get to know their team mates and take part in team-building activities. Until the school holidays begin at the end of June time is limited, but once the holidays begin they are introduced to a timetable which is more like the business day.

Local businesses such as T-Mobile, IBM and the Phoenix Car Company organise site visits as well as business placements. With the Phoenix Car Company challenge they take charge of two dealerships for the day, turning the showroom around to how they want to run it and implementing their own marketing strategies. Last year, some of the Recruits managed to sell a £17,000 Honda.

The teams take part in seven challenges, some marketing-based, some more technical such as how to use mobile phone technology to capture the under-25s market. Other challenges involve organising events and fundraising.

An entrepreneurial challenge involves each team being given a £150 business development grant which they have to use for a business idea, and to produce a profit. 

Towards the end of the programme each of the 35 is a given a sheet where they detail their aspirations, whether that is to go to university, to go back to school, or to work with one of the linked companies. The programme team then meets with the employers where they discuss the youngsters who have shown an interest in working for them. 

Having got to know the recruits over the course of the programme, they take this into account as well as looking at their programme portfolio which contains details on time-keeping, attendance, reports written, etc. Using this information, and without interviewing the young people, jobs are offered to some of the students at an Oscars-style ceremony in August.

Taylor was one of two of last year’s recruits who were offered a job before the programme had ended. 

She explained: “After the first few challenges it started to twig a bit that medicine wasn’t the right route. I do like a challenge and so I thought business was the right route to go down. IBM got in contact and told us about the apprenticeship, saying that maybe the recruits should apply for it. 

“So we had to go through putting in the application form, the ability test and assessment centre before being told we had been accepted.

“When I heard the opportunities available in IBM I jumped at the chance. The apprenticeship is for two years but we are permanent employees. I work within integrated supply teams, which is basically the end-to-end process – planning orders, getting the orders shipped. We have been given plenty of responsibility.”

Taylor puts her success in the job market down to her time on The Recruit programme. 

She added: “I have become so much more confident, I feel more comfortable talking with people I don’t know. Having been put into situations with up to 30 people I didn’t know I have gained people skills which I can transfer into the workplace. I have gained a broader knowledge of the business world.”

What do the students think?

Nicole, 17, St Columba’s High School, Greenock: “My friends were in the programme last time and they told me it was the chance of a lifetime. They really enjoyed it and said I should go for it. I also wanted to do it for the experience and to meet new people. I thought it was a good challenge to do over the summer. I want to go to university to study accountancy but would take a job if I was offered one. So far I have met some nice people – friends for life. I have also gained confidence and self-belief. I am looking forward to working as a team and getting to meet new people.”

 Robbie, 16, Notre Dame High School, Greenock: “I heard a lot of people talking about it at my school and I know a lot of people who had done the programme before. Because I have my own business (a specialist chocolate making business) and The Recruit is based around business I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to pick up new skills. Already I have grown and gained confidence. It is an amazing opportunity for everyone my age and is a hands-on experience. It tests you and your abilities and skills. You pick up new skills along the way too. When I leave school I plan to concentrate on building up my business.”

  • Jackie Cosh is a freelance education journalist.

Further information
For more on The Recruit, search on the Inverclyde Council website: www.inverclyde.gov.uk

CAPTION: Students who take part in Inverclyde’s The Recruit programme are put through their paces during up to 500 hours of activities and challenges



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