Building futures: the power of work experience

Aug 9, 2023

Kim Biddulph, our Engagement Projects Manager, reflects on our recent work experience programme and offers some top tips to consider when designing your own work experience placements.

Work experience is hugely valuable for both students and employers. The Youth Voice Census 2022 from Youth Employment UK heard from young people that work experience provides essential employability knowledge and skills, and allows students to understand what it feels like to be at work. This is also good news for employers as it means prospective new recruits will be more prepared for the world of work.

Unfortunately, many students have not had the opportunity to take part in work experience, in-person or virtual. The Youth Voice Census found only a third of young people aged 13-19 had completed any work experience. Since providing work experience was removed as a mandatory duty for schools in 2011, and due to the pandemic, access to work experience is very patchy. The Gatsby Careers Benchmarks that are followed in most English schools do include providing students with first-hand experiences of work, but this can be achieved through workplace visits alone, which may not be as impactful as a full work experience programme.

We recently had the opportunity to welcome some work experience students to EngineeringUK. We worked with LMP Action, a local community interest group, to offer two work placements to some Year 12 students who had missed out on work experience earlier in their school lives due to covid and lockdown restrictions.

Colleagues from our Engagement Projects and Business & Industry teams kindly offered to take on students and designed an exciting week of activities for them. Our students attended team and off-site meetings and got involved in a range of project work. This included analysing feedback from The Big Bang Fair, researching STEM events, learning about managing corporate relationships with our partners, and developing a presentation on emerging landscapes within the engineering sector from a young person’s point of view. It was great to be able to work closely with these young people and offer them a positive experience of the world of work. Their contributions were also very insightful for us – particularly the piece around emerging sectors that are on young people’s radars.

On completing the placement, our students commented:
“This work experience has helped me extend my research skills, which I think will be very beneficial for my studies next year. I found what I did here interesting, including experiencing working in an office. I can see clearer what I might end up doing in the future. I got a clearer picture of the way EngineeringUK work from meetings and daily office hours.”

“My favourite part of this week would probably be creating the presentation slideshows. I liked researching about the different sectors of engineering and aspects of the different events in the UK surrounding STEM. I think the skills I learned could be applied to working with any business.”

Here are some top tips about managing work experience students that we found to be helpful for making the placement a success:

  • Assign a member of staff to be the main point of contact for the students
  • Ensure the students have set tasks that can be completed within their time with you
  • Make the tasks meaningful so the student can see the value of what they have done
  • Introduce students to key colleagues they will be interacting with
  • Build a schedule so the students can see in advance what they will be doing
  • Be flexible to the needs and capabilities of the students
  • Review how things have gone at the end of the placement
  • Celebrate students’ achievements

When young people and employers work together with purpose there are benefits to both. As well as young people gaining insight into the world of work, you will learn about your future workforce (and maybe even begin the recruitment process).

To find out more about how you can offer work experiences placements for young people, visit The Careers and Enterprise Company website.

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