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Blog : Making the most of work experience


Making the most of work experience

I recently attended the 2010 – 2011 National Council for Work Experience Awards where learnpurple won the award for work placement of the year (10-250 employees); building on our success of being highly commended in last year’s awards. The judges awarded us with this title because they were impressed with the way we help to ‘build confidence in the work experience students and teach assertiveness skills ready for the working world’ as well as offering good leadership.

This is a hot topic in the media; with many news articles highlighting employer concerns about school leavers lacking basic skills and knowledge to enter a workplace. Just last month the Confederation of British Industry announced it was supporting the Association of School and College Leaders call for the government to support the development of employability skills in the curriculum.

For school leavers or university graduates entering the workplace; it's no longer just about the qualifications you hold. Employers want to see students holding employability skills such as customer awareness, self-management and problem solving alongside core skills and attributes; teamwork, dependability, honesty, persuasion, genuine literacy and numeracy.

With industry bodies wanting the curriculum changed, should employers also be doing more with schools, colleges and universities in order to help talent entering their sectors start off on the right foot? And this brings us back to work experience placements. Every GCSE student is required to complete a week long placement within a business that they find interesting and as a potential career path. What better time to start improving their employability skills than during this ‘trial work run’. And actually, it can have a significant impact on your business in terms of fresh ideas, up-to-date knowledge and enthusiasm.

When designing work placement programmes you should consider:

  1. Skills and abilities they should possess upon leaving you – give them the gift of experience by getting them involved in work which uses core employability skills and attributes. For self management, give them a number of tasks to priorities and think about deadlines, problem solving; how about a dilemma to consider a solution.
  2. Communication – we communicate to our work experience students about what they can expect from their time with us, more about what we do, and what we expect them to gain from the placement. Being upfront and honest is a great trait to have when entering the working environment, so by being these ourselves, our students respond in the same with naturally.
  3. Confidence – remember for many this is the first taste of a business environment and so will often lack confidence. Bring them out of there shell by engaging them with the company and team before they join, so they immediately feel part of who you are on their first day, and get them involved in lots of different activities, meeting different people. We also recommend the student visiting a client so they can find out about your customers and how they work. This also does wonders for confidence because meeting someone on your own for the first time is certainly nerve wracking!
  4. Their needs – why do they want to work for you? Which area of the business do they want to find out about? By finding out the answers to these points, you are able to design their week with you so the experience is more worthwhile to them and their future progression. You also won’t be ‘wasting anyone’s time’ by arranging meetings or activities that are not beneficial to them.
  5. Career path – offering work placements opens you up to a field of upcoming talent. More than one of our work experience students has returned to work for us after they spent time here – myself included! By making an impression, showcasing what you offer as an organisation and providing the individual with the most beneficial work placement then you could end up with your next leader returning once they have gained some qualifications.

Do you offer work experience placements? How do you plan for the week and do you find it beneficial?

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