Work & Employability

9 Ways Work Experience Can Help Your Students

5 min
February 23, 2021

It’s not fresh news that the job market is tough and competitive. Despite news that unemployment rate is at its lowest in a while, companies can still afford to be picky and the demand for job seekers to be more qualified with more work experience continues to grow. It’s not just the competition that makes the job market so hard for young people, but it’s also the amount of choice students are faced with when making the leap from school to work. With thousands of jobs at their finger tips online, students are bombarded with feasible options at each end of the spectrum.

This is what makes work experience so important for your students, exposing them to the realities of the world of work, adding more strings to their CV bows and ultimately helping them discover what industries they love (and those they really don’t). We’ve reached out to young people and companies to help us break down nine ways work experience can help your students.

Gives a reality check

Joel arranged a work experience placement with a music software company at the end of year 12. He’s now at university, but has had various part-time jobs and feels that his work experience has helped him in the workplace. Joel explains: 

“Doing work experience enabled me to see every aspect of the working world, including practical details such as the commute, what happens at lunchtime and getting used to a longer working day.”

Joel also found that work experience made him more realistic about the world of work. Joel says:

“I’d built an idea in my head of what a job would be like but the reality was completely different. Work experience brought me down to earth, and meant I was much better prepared when I started paid work. I also understood the importance of good timekeeping and getting a decent night’s sleep before working days.”

Moves students away from the fantasy stage

The “fantasy” stage of career development is well-documented, and is something most careers teachers are familiar with. Experiencing the world of work, and most importantly, talking to people in the workplace about their lives can really help young people move on from the fantasy stage. Elliot explains what happened to him: 

“I went along to an interview for work experience with a guitar over my back. It turned out that several people who worked in the company had a strong interest in music and played in bands in their spare time. They showed me that it’s possible to play in a band and also have a full-time job which provides a secure living.”

Refines career choices

Bethan arranged two creative work experience placements during year 10 in handbag and jewellery design. However, at the end of the placements her career ideas had changed, as she explains: 

“Work experience can be a great way to find out what you don’t want to do. I realised that I didn’t want to be a designer, but that I would like to work in a dynamic business environment.”

Angela Carroll from LB Bentley, adds:

“Work experience is the first exposure a young adult has to the workplace.  It gives the student an opportunity to affirm their choice of career with confidence and provides any future employer information and evidence on the young person’s attributes and attitudes.” 

Boosts self-confidence

Students are naturally often rather nervous about their work experience placement, especially if they’ve never had a part-time job. If students have been properly prepared and employers adequately briefed, they’ll usually return from work experience with increased self-confidence. This can often translate into students who are better motivated to study. Work experience takes away the mystery of the working world, and therefore reduces anxiety.

Alan Bullock, independent Careers Adviser, says: 

“I’ve often seen the benefits of work experience with my students. I’ll sometimes see a young person who is going through a difficult time and may lack confidence. After a period of well-organised work experience I see them go from strength to strength. “

Builds personal development skills

Everyone is talking about the “softer” skills that employers need. They’re arguably as important as qualifications. Perhaps one of the most important of these is communication, both written and verbal. During work experience your students can practice their clear spoken English, and their ability to take messages and communicate them effectively to others.

Work experience students might be asked to answer the phone or to write emails. Although not all students have an outgoing personality, tasks such as answering the phone or making visitors drinks will help encourage a friendly and helpful attitude, skills that go a long way in the workplace.

Work experience usually involves working in an environment where the student does’t know anyone, and this is a massive change from school. This provides the ideal opportunity to learn self-reliance and use initiative, two other personal development skills that can be acquired through work experience.

Stuart Tiedeman, Group Chief Operating Officer at Retail Marketing International (RMI), always interviews a young person before they are accepted for work experience. He explains: 

“The interview is informal but will involve the student meeting the team and explaining what they hope to gain from the placement. They’ll need to think on their feet, but this is ideal preparation for their week with us. During the placement there’ll be lots more opportunities for them to use their initiative and make decisions. The youngster is not going to be surrounded by their peers, and one week with a company like ours means they really learn how to be self-reliant.”

Gives an opportunity for an employer’s reference

Ensure your students ask for a reference that they can use with future job applications at the end of their placement. It can be hard for students to find a suitable referee from someone outside school, so one from a manager during work experience is ideal.

Work experience is also a great chance to network and build connections. As is said, it’s not always what you know, but who you know, and the earlier you build relationships in the world of work, the better.

Develops IT skills in the workplace

Young people often have highly-developed IT skills which are much appreciated in the workplace. During work experience students might get the opportunity to work with spreadsheets or databases, or learn about marketing techniques using social media, where they can use their IT skills within the parameters of the workplace. All these things look great on the CV! James Smith, Development Manager for a software company says: 

“I always look for evidence of work experience on a CV. Without it I’m very unlikely to offer the candidate an interview.”

Enhances team work skills

This is another skill-set that is highly sought after by employers. It isn’t just people who play sports who get to develop these all-important skills. While on work experience your students will often have the opportunity to work as part of a team, share information and ideas and assist others where necessary. It’s all about people skills, and showing how well you get on with others.

Provides essential work experience for certain careers

There are certain jobs and courses where relevant work experience greatly enhances your application. Medicine and veterinary medicine are two examples, where you’re unlikely to be offered an interview for a university place without it. If your students are interested in NHS Healthcare science roles, work experience in the NHS or a closely related area will be a big advantage. If your student has a definite career plan, aim to organise a work experience placement in that area.

– – – –

Work experience is key for students to be able to stand out from an over-saturated crowd, but it’s not the only way that students can engage with employers before officially leaving education. Take a read of our blogs on what employer engagement is and employer engagement activity ideas for inspiration.

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