GO Wales in The Times

Academy makes life easier at home for Welsh talent, finds Rachel Potter

Hunting for a job can become a full-time occupation for new graduates, as Elfie Burgess discovered in the summer of 2009. Burgess graduated in modern languages from the University of Oxford and spent six months applying for graduate roles close to her home in Swansea, with no success.

The feedback from employers would be that jobs had gone to candidates with more experience, Burgess says: “That was so frustrating. Even though I had done a lot of work experience at university, it still didn’t seem to be enough.”

She found the GO Wales Graduate Academy (gowales.co.uk), which provides free training and support, and won a place. After an intensive two weeks of training and two work placements, Burgess was offered a permanent role as assistant director at Veritas Language Solutions. She now uses her language skills to help to develop translation products and services, and credits the academy with enabling her to “stand out from the crowd” and secure a job with excellent prospects.

Funded by the European Social Fund and the Welsh Assembly Government, GO Wales aims to improve economic growth and employment. The idea is to halt the “brain drain” by keeping the best graduate talent in Wales, while providing businesses with the skills that they need.

The Graduate Academy runs four times a year, with about 18 people on each course. Applicants must be unemployed, or underemployed in a non-graduate job, and must have a residential address in Wales.

During an intensive two-week residential programme at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, participants learn the basics of business disciplines, including management, marketing and finance, along with workplace skills such as networking and negotiating.

They spend four weeks on a work placement in Wales and return to Lampeter for a further two days of study. On completing the course they gain a qualification from the Institute of Leadership and Management. The academy is free, with accommodation and full board provided during the residential course and travel expenses for the work placement. Some people also qualify for a training allowance.

Gwen Adams, Graduate Academy co-ordinator, says that the course boosts the employability of participants by teaching them how the business world operates: “It is not designed to train graduates to be managers, but it gives them an understanding of basic management disciplines and workplace skills.” This commercial awareness makes them more attractive as employees, Adams says, particularly for smaller businesses where everybody has to pitch in.

The academy is open to graduates from any discipline. Chris Williams left the University of Bath last year with a PhD in physics. He returned home to South Wales and spent months applying for jobs before being accepted for the Graduate Academy.

Williams says: “One of the best things about the course was being with people who were in a similar position. Sharing our ideas and experience brought us out of our comfort zone and gave us more confidence that we had every right to get a good job.”

The practical skills that Williams gained on the course helped him to secure his current role, analysing data in the commercial team at Arriva Trains Wales. “One of the key messages was networking, and that certainly helped me to have the confidence to be more proactive in talking to people about potential jobs,” he says.

Angie Contestabile graduated in international relations from Aberystwyth University. She returned home to Llandrindod Wells last summer and spent a “very difficult” six months looking for jobs before winning a Graduate Academy place. She says: “After so many rejections, you begin to wonder if you’re going to get anywhere. The course built up my confidence and skills and made me more prepared for the world of work.”

A work placement as a researcher for Kirsty Williams, the Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, hardened her resolve to aim for a career in policy development. “I wouldn’t have got that experience without GO Wales and it inspired me to pursue the career that I want. I left university with a great degree but no direction and not much support. Even after you’ve completed the Graduate Academy, they continue to provide support. I only wish that more graduates could have access to this.”

View the article in The Times!