Gaining a university place was hard for many this year, but those seeking to spend a year of their degree course working in their chosen industry have also faced a tough time.
Salvation came for some in the reinstatement of Redrow Homes' graduate training programme, which is providing a one year work placement for six undergraduates with the award-winning house builder. It is part of a wider training policy designed to recognise and nurture future talent, and comes as Redrow also recruits up to 50 apprentices to start this year.
Richard Beadsmoore, training manager for Redrow, says: "An unfortunate knock-on effect of the downturn in the housing market was the lack of opportunities for young people to get a foothold on the career ladder or to learn a trade. We're delighted to be reintroducing our undergraduate trainee programme and one consequence of the shortage of work placements generally is that we had a talented pool of people to choose from this year."
These included Cara Henderson, studying commercial management and quantity surveying at the University of Central Lancashire, in Preston, who says that 95 per cent of her classmates have gone straight back to university to carry on with their studies.
Henderson, 23, now learning all she can about procurement, contractual arrangements and materials estimation in Redrow's commercial department, near Chester, said: "Taking a year out during my course is strongly encouraged by the university but finding companies to take students on was a real struggle this year."
Recently chosen as 'Best of the best' at the Women In Property's National Student Awards 2010, Henderson added: "The opportunities to gain valuable hands-on experience are simply not as available as they were a few years ago; with many companies no longer offering undergraduate placement schemes. I feel very fortunate to have achieved a place with Redrow, and thus the opportunity to put all I have learned into practice."
Mature student Andrew Hitchman, 27, pursuing a BSc Honours degree in construction project management at Oxford Brookes University, is delighted to be attached to the construction department at Redrow in the south west, and is currently working on site in Bristol.
He said: "It's a compulsory part of my degree course to spend a year out in industry and in the current economic climate it has been particularly tough to find placements. There are 35 to 40 students on my course and about 10 of them are still looking for a position."
Simon Hohenberg applied to about 50 different companies for a placement but found that most businesses had been laying staff off and weren't in the position to hire students.
Hohenberg, 20, studying for a BSc Honours degree in planning and property development at Nottingham Trent University, said: "Fortunately, my university was aware of the Redrow scheme and it definitely offered the best opportunity as it is very structured in its approach. It says a lot about Redrow that they are still investing in people even when times are tough."
Hohenberg is now attached to the land department at Redrow in Tamworth, where he's looking to identify new development opportunities in the Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby areas.
The undergraduates taken on by Redrow this year can take inspiration from people like Paul Sinclair, who came to the company on a postgraduate training programme in 1998 after graduating from the University of Nottingham with a degree in civil engineering with German. He is now a technical manager for one of Redrow's housing companies.
Sinclair, now 33, said: "The graduate training programme was a good stepping stone from university to the world of work. As well as training to be a civil engineer I was exposed to different elements of the business and got to participate in community based projects. The new intake of undergraduates should expect a challenge and my advice would be to work hard and show commitment. If they do that, then ultimately they will be rewarded and may be able to build a future career with Redrow following completion of their degree."
Redrow builds more than 2,500 new homes annually across England, Scotland and Wales, with an emphasis on traditional, detached family housing from the recently introduced New Heritage Collection. The company directly employs more than 900 people and provides employment for thousands of sub-contractors on its housing sites. Its commitment to training and staff development is evident in the retention of a training centre in Tamworth, Staffs, which delivered over 2,200 training days in the last 12 months.
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