This article is one in a series marking Work Experience Week, FairTrain’s annual campaign to celebrate and raise awareness about the benefits of work experience.
In October 2015, 79% of employers surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce stated that work experience was the best way for young people to ‘develop effective skills for the workplace’. But, in 2012, the requirement for 15-16 year olds to undertake work experience was scrapped (a move that 82% of businesses want to see reversed). On top of this, studies over the past decade have continually shown that uptake of Saturday jobs is in steep decline – in large part due to the ever-growing exam pressure that looms over young people’s lives. So, how can young people get the work experience they need to help them succeed in their future careers?
Many schools still require their students to undertake a traditional one- or two-week work experience placement, but are unable to allocate staff time to offer a structured work experience programme or help students coordinate the process. This leaves many young people in a difficult situation: at a stressful time in their young lives, with GCSEs on the horizon, they must find and organise their own placements or miss out. Quite apart from the unwelcome additional pressure this system imposes, it is also disproportionately reliant on the students’ own social capital to function. Disadvantaged young people – particularly those in care or from families where no-one is in work – lack access to the social networks required to source engaging, worthwhile work experience that has relevance to their future career ambitions.
We know that this has a direct effect on social mobility: employers are much less willing to take a chance on a prospective new employee with no experience of the workplace. They are much more likely to show interest in candidates with work experience that connects to their industry or the position being offered. Indeed, a work experience placement can be a direct route to an apprenticeship or job in the future. Therefore, students from better-connected families benefit hugely from their improved access to high-quality work experience, to the detriment of their less privileged peers.
So, what can we do to help? As an education business partnership (EBP), Inspire! is part of a network of organisations that has the answer: we offer schools a full work experience brokering service for all their students (in the last academic year alone, we organised nearly 4,000 placements for young people). We engage thousands of employers, from blue-chip City institutions to independent, family-run businesses, from disruptive start-ups to household names. We help students get ready for work experience, coaching them on workplace behaviours and building their skills so they can get the maximum benefit from their placements. We tailor placements for students with additional needs, so no-one is left behind. And, crucially, we’re on hand to support employers and students every step of the way.
We know that work experience is vital to help young people prepare for adult life and make a successful transition from education to work. We know that it gives them a chance to build crucial teamwork and communication skills, broadening their horizons and helping them to refine their plans for the future. We know that it can provide them with contacts and access to networks that can transform their prospects, and that employers value it above all else. And we firmly believe that we and our fellow EBPs have the expertise and experience to help every young person – whatever their background – access all these benefits.