Seven steps to a high quality work experience programme

Beth Brook is Chief Executive of Fair Train, a national charity that exists to promote high quality apprenticeships, traineeships and work experience opportunities for young people. Writing exclusively for ASDAN, she describes the importance of work experience and gives her top tips on making it rewarding and inspiring for young people.

Fair Train believes passionately in the value of work experience, not only for those young people looking to kick-start their careers, but also for employers looking to recruit the best talent and see the best results for their businesses.

The majority of businesses say that work experience is critical when recruiting new staff, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. Shockingly, though, only one in four employers offer any form of work experience.

The picture is worse in certain parts of the country, where young people face inherent disadvantages when preparing themselves for work. There are significant geographical differences in the numbers of employers offering work experience opportunities, and it is not a coincidence that these areas coincide with hotspots for youth unemployment.

Creating a high quality work experience programme may be the single most important thing you can do to help combat youth unemployment. Whether you are starting from scratch, or refining your current offer, the following seven step guide provides you with some practical suggestions to help.

1. Planning and preparation

Ensure work experience is embedded within the organisation, and enlist a senior manager as a champion.

2. Effective inductions

Learners will find it helpful to have a clear idea of what they will be doing and what they are expected to achieve. A planned induction highlighting expectations within the workplace is key to a successful placement.

3. Ongoing support

Assign a mentor to act as a role model, sharing knowledge and advice to help develop employability skills.

4. Making the experience meaningful

Consider how the placement could be made more meaningful by giving the learner a full project to manage, integrating careers information and advice into the experience, and helping the learner build on key skills such as English and maths using real world examples in the workplace.

5. Motivation and recognition

Ensure the placement matches the aspirations of the learner, and develop tailored work experience placements, creating varied opportunities and providing context to the role.

Recognition can range from a chance to present work experience placement results to the senior management team to an article in the organisational newsletter, a voucher to cover lunch in the organisation’s canteen or a simple thank you for a job well done.

6. Making the placement work for everyone

The most effective placements are win-win situations, where the employer benefits just as much as the learner, and there is nothing wrong in identifying how a placement can meet a business need.

7. The end of the placement

Ensure that the placement comes to a planned conclusion, and build in mechanisms to support the learner to review the learning points whilst they are still fresh. Reflect on skills learned, and ensure that these are highlighted within the CV.

Fair Train offers free and impartial advice to organisations looking to set up and develop a high quality work experience programme. Fair Train also manages the national Work Experience Quality Standard accreditation, an independent standard to help organisations to offer high quality work experience and manage risk effectively. 

*Work experience placements can be accredited through ASDAN's Careers and Experiencing Work Short Course.

Author: Beth Brook, Former Chief Executive, Fair Train

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