Worrying figures emerged recently from the UK Commission for Employment & Skills (UKCES), telling us something we already know, but perhaps don’t want to believe. The Catch 16-24: Youth Employment Challenge report found that while 66% of businesses cite experience as the most crucial component they look for in new recruits, a sizeable 34% of employers also said that nothing would persuade them to offer work experience at their organisation.
Whilst the internet is positively awash with growing numbers of work experience and internship opportunities for undergraduates, it is still very hard to seek out opportunities for those who are still at school. And yet, with a growing number of school leaver programmes and apprenticeships now out there and targeting this age group, it is arguably more important than ever before that young people have the opportunity to find out about the world of work and examine the areas that interest them if they are to make the right decisions. It is also very much an expectation for successful applications to certain vocationally-focused degree courses. So, whether you are a school student, a parent or a career adviser, where are the best places for you to be looking, and asking, about work experience schemes?
These do exist but they are few and far between and very well hidden! Perhaps one of the best online resources – a collection of work experience schemes across a breadth of industries – can be seen on the Student Ladder website. Alternatively, Spark! The National Work Experience Service currently offer a very concise list on the Parents & Students page of their website, but they are looking to develop this over forthcoming months. There will always be some industries who are a little more organised at promoting these opportunities than others and, for anyone with an interest in working in finance, it is worth browsing the Directions website to search for specific work experience and insight day opportunities.
Asking family and close networks
While work experience at undergraduate level is a much more sophisticated beast, much of the earlier opportunities tend to be informal arrangements, heavily reliant on the resourcefulness and proactivity of the students involved. Often, knowing someone within an organisation can make every difference to how receptive they may be to making the opportunities happen. So, students should be encouraged to sit down and brainstorm everyone in their personal networks – family, friends, friends’ of family – who may be able to help them with professional introductions, or with negotiating and setting up the placements. Take it a step further by using social media to reach out to potential organisations if there are no direct links that can be utilised.
These organisations are generally getting better at providing useful and targeting careers information so, if you know of an industry that you want to target put time aside to research the relevant professional bodies. Search their websites – some will even show lists of organisations and employers who are happy to accept work experience applications, or can guide you towards them.
Tapping into school networks
Whilst formalised (and organised) work experience weeks are a thing of the past for most schools, some will be more active than others in creating professional networks through, perhaps, their alumni, or any employer links within their staff, parents or governing bodies (and if not, why not?). Some schools and colleges may be fortunate enough to have involvement with charities such as Careers Academies UK who provide high quality internships as part of their wider programme of support, or local charities that link students with employers. Do what you can to find out what is going on, or expand the breadth of what is currently on offer.
Approaching companies speculatively
Speculative approaches can be hit and miss, certainly, but chances will be increased in students have done their research upfront, and contacted the right individual within the organisation. It’s definitely still worth a shot. Remember that visiting in person or following up sent CVs with phone calls can all help to improve the hit rate.
Whilst experience in a commercial setting may be viewed as the Holy Grail of work experience placements, don’t underestimate the potential for skills development, or the breadth of opportunities available through volunteering in charities and the not-for-profits. Indeed, for certain degree courses (think medicine and the allied health professions, and care-related work) it will be a necessity to gain this type of experience. But for those struggling to find something in a private company it can be a great way of showing skills, initiative and commitment. Visit Do-It to search opportunities, or contact agencies who interest you.
Of course, better school-employer links is all part of the current government’s master plan for improved careers advice. We wait with baited breath to see if, when and how this materialises and whether it will help bridge the great chasm that currently exists between school students and the world of work. But for the time being at least, these students will need to continue to utilise all the resources available to them to make the most of what work experience has to offer.
Follow the Working Adviser LinkedIn Page for latest blogs, quizzes and content