Norfolk council seeking unemployed graduates for the government’s Get Britain Working scheme

Working up to 30 hours a week at County Hall for no extra cash might not sound like an appealing prospect.

But Norfolk County Council is trying to entice up to 50 unemployed graduates to complete placements and find a way into work.

This is authority's attempt at implementing the government's Get Britain Working programme.

The criteria for candidates is simple, although the concept unpopular.

If you are unemployed, a graduate, aged 24 or under, claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and have little or no work experience, then you are eligible to apply.

In return, participants continue to receive their benefits, with the Department for Work and Pensions covering travel and childcare costs.

This has raised fears that people have been made to do the same jobs as full-time or part-time workers for less money. Protests against private companies involved in the programme, such as Tesco, have taken place while Sainsbury's, Waterstones and Matalan have reviewed their involvement or opted-out in recent weeks.

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But with unemployment numbers increasing across Norfolk, Waveney and Fenland, the government hopes the programme can increase people's skills and make them more attractive to employers.

Roles in environment and waste and economic development are now being advertised by Norfolk County Council.

They will last between two to eight weeks, although there is no guarantee of any job at the end of a placement.

Those who perform well will be placed on the council's temporary staff register and everyone receives a reference for future job applications.

John Birchall, senior media and public affairs officer, said: 'People on these placements may carry out useful tasks as an essential part of work experience, but overall these placements require the support of staff and managers – including induction and mentoring, supportive feedback, end of placement interviews and references.

'Although this represents an extra commitment for staff and managers, who have existing work responsibilities, we hope that they, as well as those on placements, benefit from the experience.'

The authority says the project will not cost it anything.

And Ian Mackie, deputy leader at the council, said graduates had already expressed an interest in being involved.

Jonathan Dunning, Unison branch secretary for Norfolk, said he was not happy with the general principle of the government's work experience programme, but was satisfied with the council's approach to it.

He said: 'The county council consulted us on this and gave us the main assurance – which was lacking in the early stages of the Tesco debate – that the participants would not be doing the jobs that are done by paid staff.

'It will be very much a learning process in the workplace – not taking a job away from people.'

Mr Dunning said the council previously ran a 'successful' apprenticeship project, in which people were placed in real jobs and paid the going rate.

He said in some instances this led to permanent employment.

Mr Dunning added: 'Although we are comfortable with how the county council is managing the current scheme, there has been a recognition that it's no replacement for apprenticeships.'

The council has announced �3m to create more apprenticeships for young people in Norfolk. It is expected small and medium-sized businesses will be able to subsidise apprentice wages by bidding for cash from a fund.

But for the work experience programme, the prospect of people walking into jobs at councils is much lower.

Government cash cuts have left the public sector making drastic reductions in staff numbers.

An estimated 360 job positions will be lost at Norfolk County Council in 2012/13.

This is part of the authority's work to cut �135m from its budget by 2014, with several hundred workers already affected in 2011/12.

By the end of December, 443 redundancies had been made, equating to 322 full-time equivalent posts. A further 236 staff had been redeployed.

Norwich City Council says it has no plans to join the government-backed work experience scheme.

But Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said she was fully behind plans to get young people used to the world of work.

The Conservative said she gained work experience aged 15 helping at National Trust property Oxburgh Hall, near Swaffham and at the EDP when she was 16.

She also did jobs while studying at the University of York.

The 29-year-old said: 'Everything helps in the current employment market. Any measure of experience that a young person can gain stands them in good stead.

'No young person should turn down the chance to gain experience and no local employers –public or private – should shy away from giving people these opportunities.'

Richard Bridgman, chairman of engineering firm Warren Services, in Thetford, said he had enjoyed a lot of success with the Get Britain Working scheme.

He said: 'We've had 10 youngsters do eight weeks work experience and from that 10 we have given three full-time jobs. The others have left us with better CVs.

'I think it's a very good thing, though half don't get jobs, and it's not all positive. We go to quite a lot of trouble to buy them all the kit such as shoes; I had one guy who did two days and then just cleared off. There are positives and negatives but I'm all for it.'

Other businesses say they are attempting to find ways of helping youngsters learn what jobs they would like to do.

Rob Whitwood, managing director of North Walsham-based Inspired Change, said his company was in the process of designing a work experience site.

This will aim to act as a database for schools, allowing pupils to find out which businesses were willing to accept them.

Mr Whitwood, who is also vice chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses in North Norfolk, said it could break the cycle of schools using the same nearby businesses – even if they were not the best match for a child.

He said: 'When I talk to graduates about their CVs, they haven't got a lot of work experience and they haven't done a lot of things.

'Traditionally CVs are in chronological order. What I say to them is you don't have any work experience, so don't flag that up.

'Look at what an employer is after and think about the attributes and skills they need and write it around that.'

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