What should work experience in schools look like in 2017?

Experience of work in schools has changed: five years ago it was all about a fixed week of work experience; today, it’s all about multiple encounters with employers.

However schools decide to approach the issue, work-related experiences are essential for students’ self-awareness and understanding of the world of work. Working out what you do (or don’t) want to do is far easier when you have some experience to reflect upon.

‘What is work like?’
‘What do I need to be successful in the workplace?’
‘Where or how do I fit into the workplace?’
‘How do I get started in my chosen job?’

Young people can find answers to these questions in a number of ways, perhaps through spending a period of time at work or through conversations with those from the world of work.

The importance of work-related activities

Work experience as we knew it may no longer be compulsory, but experience of work comes with a whole host of endorsements: the Gatsby benchmarks for good career guidance; the CDI Framework for careers, employability and enterprise education; and the Quality in Careers Standard all reinforce the importance of such experience.

Work-related activities are essential if we are to prepare young people for working lives. If parents are well-connected or in work themselves, then they may be able to support their children to gain experience; children who are more vulnerable or lacking such support are likely to lose out (or find themselves limited by the opportunities of their network), unless their school or other institution steps in to encourage and support them.

Employer engagement

The Education and Employers Taskforce carried out research suggesting that young people who have had a series of high-quality encounters with employers go on to earn 18% more than peers who haven’t experienced such opportunities; they also found that they were significantly less likely to be NEET.

School-mediated employer engagement might include work experience, but also career talks, industry visits, mentoring or enterprise education. With schools strapped for cash and time, planning a few careers talks might appear to be an easier option than a full-scale work-experience scheme. However, for these encounters to be beneficial, they’ll need to be carefully managed and supported by a coherent programme of career education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) activities.

Giving students the tools they need for success in the world of work

We risk selling off our young people to the employer who shouts the loudest if we don’t give students the tools to think critically about what they’re being told and consider how it applies to them. Giving them perspective, preparation and reflection time for such encounters helps to maximise the benefits, transforming a standalone encounter into something meaningful that students can build upon.

Employers will need support too: finding employers who can engage with students and speak in the language they understand is important; briefing the employer on what to expect, how they can help and setting clear boundaries can be useful too.

At a time when decisions about career direction are being made earlier, an understanding of work is essential to making the right choices. Schools need to explore what works best for their students, but evidence is building that experience of work shouldn’t be an isolated week in Year 10, rather an ongoing process of testing out ideas, building confidence and awareness. Not a fixed week or fortnight, but a selection of encounters to provide a range of perspectives on what work is and what is required to succeed in the world of work.

Who can help?

The Careers and Enterprise Company
www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/school-activities

There may be other activities in your local area linked to the Inspiration Agenda, Local Enterprise Partnerships or Education Business Partnerships.

Inspiring the Future
www.inspiringthefuture.org

Alumni
Set up a group on LinkedIn or use a service like Future First to reach out to ex-students.