TEESSIDE University Sociology graduate Josh Slack was working in a petrol station when he received a call offering him an internship with Darlington Borough Council.

The decision to grasp the opportunity of unpaid work proved to be a turning point in his life.

“I didn’t think twice,” he said. “It was just too good to turn down.

“If I’m honest, at that time I wasn’t quite sure which direction my career was going to take.

University qualifications are important, but without practical experience it’s hard to make a breakthrough.”

The 25-year-old, from Stockton, now has a fulltime position as a performance officer in the council services department.

The internship, which was supported by the Economic Challenge Investment Fund and backed by charity eVOLution and JobCentre Plus, saw Mr Slack complete a research project into the impact of longterm unemployment in Darlington.

“It was an ironic subject I suppose,” he said.

“But I enjoyed it and it led to another project which looked at how the number of apprenticeships could be increased.”

That eventually led to him being offered some short-term paid work with the council before he secured a permanent role.

He said: “I came here without any experience of the professional environment. It is one thing to study and understand theories, but working in a large organisation is a another matter entirely. The internship got my name out here in Darlington and across the North-East.

“I can’t put a price on how much of an impact it had on my career. I was lucky that the council were able to give me a subsistence allowance for costs such as travelling and meals, but I was working full-time without a salary, which maybe wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea.

“In my case it was an investment that has paid off. I’d recommend this route to any young person.”