Page last updated at 08:19 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 09:19 UK

City reaches out to young talent

By Alison Smith
BBC News education reporter

Career Academies students
The students have to look and act like professional staff

The bright lights of the Canary Wharf banks might seem like an unattainable world to some teenagers who live around them in the East End of London.

Some of the leading firms there knew they wanted to tap into the talent on their doorstep - but the social barriers separating them were difficult to break down.

Led by Citi Group, a group of companies decided to target local schools and colleges to offer internships and a taste of life in the City.

There is no tea-making, photocopying or asking to be given work to do.

Students are suited, booted, given a real job - and paid for it.

'Make money'

The scheme, called Career Academies, was already running in the US - and now is involved with nearly 100 schools and colleges in locations all over the UK, with 35 more to follow this autumn.

Christopher, 17, said he would have taken the six-week internship at Cadbury in Sheffield even without the £1,000 he will get at the end.

But it helps, especially since he is giving up two weeks of summer holiday.

He has worked in the export department and is now working on forecast data, highlighting any areas of concern in supply.

"I feel like I'm contributing to part of the whole, and I'm part of the team," he says.

I had a real job interview and I feel like I'm doing a real job
Lynda, Career Academies intern

"In business studies at school it seems people are there just to make money for the business. Workers are dehumanised a bit.

"But I've seen now that in a real company they are treated as people, and a well-motivated workforce is important."

The internships are also a useful introduction to the nine to five (or longer) working culture, which Christopher says took a little while to get used to.

Lynda, originally from Nigeria, is doing a graduate-level job before she even gets to the university campus.

She aims to study a computer-related degree after finishing her Advanced Diploma at Newham College in East Ham.

Her internship on the computer technology support desk of the London Metal Exchange with Xchanging will count towards it.

"I have to dress smart, be corporate, answer the phone in a professional manner," she says.

"I had a real job interview and I feel like I'm doing a real job.

"When I started, I didn't know much about Microsoft Outlook, for example - but I've had to learn it fast to solve people's problems."

Employer-led

At each school or college involved in Career Academies, only some of the students can take part.

The aim is to select those who teachers feel will benefit the most.

Lynda at work
Lynda is working as a support analyst

They are often teenagers who have the potential to go to university but may not otherwise make it there, says John May, Career Academies chief executive.

The idea is not exclusively to help those from ethnic minority backgrounds aim higher, but in reality the scheme is rooted in communities with a high proportion of teenagers from minority backgrounds.

"The programme is remarkably colour blind," he says. "It's not a diversity-led programme.

"It is about recognition that there is deprivation in parts of east London but an awful lot of talent."

John May says Career Academies are employer-led, rather than simply responding to what students want to do - for what 16 and 17-year-olds want to do may not actually lead them to a job.

The programme believes adults may know best in that regard - and the students may not always get the placement they expect.

After assessing their strengths and weaknesses they should get an appropriate placement which will enhance their prospects.

Audio quality

Ellis, now 20, recognises why her teachers assigned her to an internship in media - an area she had not thought of for a career.

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During her internship with Talkback Thames she worked in the contracts department, on some filming and with props.

She is now about to start a job with Ascent Media, part of the Discovery Channel, in charge of quality control of audio before it reaches the on-air server.

"Before, I had little idea of what I wanted as a career," she says.

"I think I wanted to run my own business, but I found I really like the atmosphere in the media.

"I was so young, but people made me feel like I'd done well."

She says some friends who did the same business-focused A-levels as her did go on to university, but some were now "just doing nothing, sitting at home".

"I just don't know what I would do if I didn't have a job," she says.



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