Sunday August 18, 2013
I’ve recently observed how one small start-up has helped a 14 year old enter the world of work and, in doing so created a strong, loyal and rather vocal advocate.
We’re no strangers to work experience at Purple Cubed. We’ve even won a couple of awards but this isn’t why we are such strong supporters of it:
- We gain great insights from the people who come to us
- Sometimes we recruit them
- People enjoy having them around and being able to contribute towards their development
- They make a contribution to our business
- It’s good to make a difference
- We’re nice people who want to help people have diverse experiences
- It’s positive for our employer brand
- They tell their family / friends / anyone who will listen
- They even blog about us
The boot was, however, firmly on the other foot when I was in the position of finding a short (unpaid) work experience placement for a 14-year-old GCSE student. It is way more challenging than you would think. When approaching a number of organisations, the responses were:
- Five – no we don’t do it (various excuses from ‘too busy’ to ‘health and safety issues’ to plain ‘no’)
- Three - we’ll get back to you (and didn’t)
- One - head office delighted, branch manager less so
- And one small business that welcomed her with open arms
Eve Snow is a new British nail lacquer and cosmetic company founded by young entrepreneur Yvette Snowden. Although a small and very busy start-up with just a handful of employees, Yvette was happy to take on a 14 year old, let’s call her Jaz.
Eve Snow did a number of things for Jaz that made the placement worthwhile:
- Asked the right questions: On day one Yvette sat Jaz down, asked whether she was interested in the creative or business side and what she generally wanted to get out of the placement
- Kept it simple: there was no complex plan; just a common sense approach
- Buddied her up: by pairing Jaz with an university level intern, they were able to have lunch together and go out and about for promotions and so on
- Gave responsibility: Treated Jaz like an adult and like any other employee; access to a Mac book, naming products, responding to web posts and free use of products
- Made it fun: great tasks such as naming the Christmas collection of nail lacquers (whether they ultimately use this or not, it was a great thing to do). There was even involvement with a catwalk show
The benefits of this short period of experience have been immense. Just simple things make a big impact; like:
- Having to take the tube for unfamiliar journeys (in this case 21 stops on the Northern line!) - from nervous and uncertain to confident and well informed
- Being on time, meeting a colleague at a designated point, working alone and to a deadline
- Dressing and behaving appropriately for the placement
- Taking responsibility; understanding what it feels like to have someone rely on you
In my view, work experience isn’t really about skills; it’s about attitude and inspiration. And working for a young, entrepreneurial woman has been a thoroughly inspiring experience for Jaz.
By having a list of tasks that work experience students are trusted to get on with, thus negating the need for constant supervision, it’s possible to build up an outline plan for any student to follow. Of course a little preparation and tailoring will be required, though by buddying up with more experienced people in the organisation there are far more advantages than disadvantages. Even in a small, very busy business, having a work experience placement can be easily managed.
It’s been interesting that by making Jaz feel part of the team how quickly she has embraced the brand – it’s all about ‘we’ , not ‘they’ - as in “We’re doing London fashion week”. This tells me that Eve Snow does a great job of quickly engaging their people and creating brand loyalty.
If every business in the UK made this one small change we’d be setting up a far more aware, capable and inspired workforce for the future. So, to the five ‘no’s, the three ‘we’ll get back to you’s and the one disengaged branch manager plus any other business that steer away from this issue, you are missing an opportunity. If you value your brand and your reputation as a great place to work, ignore the prospect of work placements at your peril.
What positive outcomes has your business had as a result of work experience or internships?