High quality work experience is an essential part of careers education that helps young people prepare for the world of work. It can also bring considerable benefits to businesses, helping them strengthen their links with the local community, provide valuable CPD for staff and gain a fresh perspective from creative young people. Based on my experience of coordinating work experience at ASDAN, I’ve listed my top tips on how employers can excel in offering work placements.
1. Be clear about why you’re doing it
Work experience is a great thing but it can be difficult for colleagues to engage with if there is no clear sense of why the business has decided to invest in it. For ASDAN, there’s an easy answer as supporting young people to prepare for the world of work is core to our values. If it’s not so clear-cut for you, take a moment to consider why you want to offer work experience and what you would like the organisation to gain from it. For example:
- do you want to gain a fresh and perhaps insightful perspective on your company?
- do you want to attract talent or recruit future apprentices for your business?
- are you passionate about upskilling the workforce of the future?
- are you interested in improving your corporate social responsibility?
Whatever your vision is, share it with the team so that it’s clear what your objectives are.
2. Support your staff to get the most from the experience
One of the key benefits of providing work placements at ASDAN is that it gives our staff a chance to practise and develop supervision and mentoring skills. Our students usually spend a week with us, working in a different team each day. Each team has an appointed mentor that receives training to equip them with the tools to:
- supervise effectively
- give praise and constructive criticism
- monitor progress in a supportive way
Most of our mentors don’t have regular line management responsibilities so this is great skills development for them. Taking colleagues off the job to take part in supervision and mentoring skills training shows that you are committed to their development, and that you value their contribution to your work experience programme.
3. Match your placement to the learner
When you’re approached to host a placement, always ask what the learner is interested in and make sure you can match what they’re looking for. Be clear about what you can and can’t offer, and provide placements to people who will value their time with you.
For me, a crucial next step is to meet students before they come to work with you. It gives them a chance to see where they’ll be based and who they’ll be working with. This makes the first day less scary for them and gives you an opportunity to scope out their work aspirations, personal interests and talents, all of which you can pass on to your team of work experience mentors.
4. Organise a clear schedule
Work experience students need proper supervision and support. When we provide work experience at ASDAN, every team has a set of pre-prepared activities for the student. These are carefully considered and come with clearly written instructions and easily accessible resources. The tasks provide an opportunity to tap into the minds of young people, while describing them is a great way to clarify your own understanding of what you do and why you do it. Our students tell us they really value taking part in well-structured placements.
5. Provide an induction
A clear induction is key to a good placement for the student. At ASDAN, we start by briefing every learner on our organisation’s standards such as the dress code, use of mobile phones and appropriate use of the internet. We talk through what we have planned for the placement and the teams they will be working with. There’s also a health and safety induction and a tour of the building. Learners appreciate understanding the expectations you have of them – this helps maintain good relationships throughout the placement.
6. Be flexible and open to ideas
The fresh perspective many young people bring can result in unexpected benefits to your business. In order to take advantage of new ideas and opportunities the young person brings, it’s important to be flexible and open-minded as an employer. For example, during a recent placement at ASDAN, we discovered that the student was a proficient photographer. We explored this topic and she revealed she was eager to tour the building taking photos of staff and our facilities. We worked with her on this, before eventually printing the photos and displaying them in one of our meeting rooms as part of a mini exhibition (see right for examples of the images). The student was thrilled with this, she was able to gain useful photography experience for her CV and we as an organisation got some stunning images that we now proudly display at our Wainbook House office in Bristol.
7. Recognise achievement
Try to make time to write a reference and reflect on the placement with learners. This is an important part of helping them recognise the skills they have developed over the week, and a chance to offer praise, advice and thanks. To add even more value, our Careers and Experiencing Work Short Course is a cost effective, flexible way of accrediting work experience. As part of the course, learners collect evidence as they go along, reflect on their learning throughout the week and at the end they are presented with a certificate.
Try to organise a certificate presentation and invite staff to bring the placement to a successful end.
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