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Work study

Glen Fest (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram)/FORT WORTH -- Craig Graue has a confession. The Texas Christian University senior and former Lockheed Martin Aeronautics intern used to call in sick when he had to finish a school project or study for a test.

"It was more of a part-time job," Graue, 22, says of his two-day-a-week Lockheed job last year in Fort Worth. "But even then, the hours I had to work there were set hours. I would get reprimanded if I wasn't there or was late."

He doesn't need to worry about grief from his boss any longer. The marketing major gets to set his own hours as a Web designer and programmer at Interactive Associates, a multimedia firm in Fort Worth, while he rounds out his campus studies over the next year -- or two.

"I've come to the conclusion I don't need to finish in five years," Graue says. There's no need to "finish up and get out" of college when he's already "in" the door full time.

Flexible schedules are part of a growing trend with businesses. A 2000 survey of 1,020 U.S. employers by management consulting firm Hewitt Associates shows 74 percent of companies offer flexible work schedules, up from 66 percent in 1994.

While most of those are for family and leave arrangements, allowing time for educational advancement has become part of that flex mix.

By hiring college students and arranging work around class schedules, companies get a leg up in recruiting, plus a better chance at filling positions in industries with crucial staffing needs, according to those who have brought students aboard full time.

"We knew we really wanted to get these people right out of college," Interactive President Blake Iba says. "Craig came aboard as intern and did such a good job, we asked if he could stay on full time.

"We're very relaxed here. We'll accommodate Craig or any of our other employees where we can."

Besides a paycheck, Graue says he's also gaining job experience that will give him a leg up on new graduates confined to the classroom. Graue says he knows an upcoming TCU e-business major graduate, "and he couldn't do this job."

"Classrooms can only get you started," Graue says.

At the IBM Global Services call center in Roanoke, the company hires as many as 50 college students as "co-ops" each semester to serve as full-time technical support operators, says Nancy Cantu, a company education coordinator.

"With our organization, we are pretty much 24/7 in order to provide support for our customers," she says. "We have three regular shifts . . . so it depends on whatever class schedule they have.

"Their schedules are set each semester, but we do have rotating shifts, and we can have them work on the weekends."

The workers come mainly from the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas in Denton.

Graue's arrangement is atypical, Iba says, because he is in a hard-to-fill, professional-level position with a small company. He puts in at least 40 hours each week, while taking nine class hours at TCU.

His daily work routine varies, depending on whether he has classes or projects that need completion. Graue says he doesn't place his school duties above those of clients, however; he usually works each night until 6:30 or 7, or even later if necessary, to handle the two or three projects he is juggling.

"We're hoping the work environment is teaching him things beyond what he's getting in a classroom environment," Iba says.

(c) 2001 The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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