Small and medium-sized businesses in Hertfordshire are offering work placements to students on IT foundation degrees as part of a programme to help firms fill IT vacancies and give students practical experience.
Students on two-year IT foundation degrees accredited by the University of Hertfordshire have completed a range of real-life projects for local businesses, ranging from redesigning databases to building websites and computerising manual processes.
The degrees, which combine business and IT skills, have been taken up by mature students looking for a change of career, as well as youngsters preparing to enter the workforce for the first time.
"There are a lot of small businesses in Hertfordshire that lack IT skills. About 99% of local businesses have less then 200 employees but they employ three quarters of the population," said Sarah Flynn, senior lecturer at the university.
By offering work placements, local businesses are able to build links with potential new recruits and benefit from the skills the students bring into the organisation.
Altro, a Hertfordshire manufacturer of flooring and wall products, said it plans to offer more placements to local students after a student successfully project managed the implementation of a company intranet, linking staff in the UK and Asia.
Sarah Farrell, a mature student who plans to move into the IT profession after a career in secretarial work and administration, completed the project in 12 weeks.
Jerry Grafton, learning and development manager at Altro, said, "It was achievable, but we wanted an ambitious timetable. It required her to communicate with our UK and overseas branches. She had to explain what the intranet could deliver, and co-ordinate external trainers to come in and train our administrators."
Farrell said managing the project helped her to put the theory she had learned into practice and had boosted her confidence in pursing IT as a career.
"Altro was going through major changes, so it was an interesting time to work with the company. They almost seem to have read the book on how to manage change. Working with Jerry and the rest of the project team enabled me to see how I worked in a different role," she said.
Altro said the project had not only provided the firm with a dynamic communication tool, but had given it a higher profile in Hertfordshire that would help it find recruits for its IT department more easily.
"It has allowed us to be very clear to the university what we, as an employer, need in terms of skill sets from students," said Grafton.
Farrell plans to convert her foundation degree into an honours degree by taking another two years of part-time study at the university.
Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)
The government has pledged to prioritise the teaching science and technology in UK universities as part of its higher education strategy.