Can you remember who the organisation you work for last gave work experience to? The relative of a fellow employee? A client’s child? Perhaps someone from a local school? Maybe your organisation doesn’t offer work experience.
Work experience is often seen as relatively trivial, something that involves a young person sitting around in a way that isn’t really productive. However, it actually plays a vital role in helping young people understand the world of work.
We can forget that none of us are born knowing what to wear in the workplace, how to shake hands, how to make small talk, how an organisation works. Work experience lets people learn this and much more. Some people can learn some of this at home or at their schools, but for a lot of people – particularly disadvantaged young people – it’s only when they’re allowed into an organisation that they start to learn these things.
It also gives people the first thing they can put on their CVs besides their school grades, which in turn helps them obtain further opportunities at other workplaces. It helps them make connections to people who can advise them and perhaps contact them with further opportunities.
The problem is, obtaining it is too often based on who you know rather than what you know, giving a natural advantage to the children of well-connected parents with professional jobs. And in the pandemic, it all but disappeared, with one study finding 61% of employers surveyed cancelled some/all of their placements. In reality, I suspect the figure was much higher.
That’s why I’ve just started a campaign, calling on employers in this constituency to offer work experience to young people at local state schools. I know from my regular conversations with headteachers that they’ve been finding it hard to get work experience for their pupils. We have some world-leading organisations across this area – particularly at Harwell and Milton Park – and we have some fantastic young talent.
I want to use my experience running charities for disadvantaged young people, where work experience was a key part of what we helped people to get, to connect local employers and young people. I am targeting an initial 50 placements this year and am asking schools to put forward the young people they want to participate, ensuring that at least some are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I’ll be showcasing those who step forward, like Hachette UK, one of the country’s leading publishing groups, which was the first to agree to take 5 young people this year. If you work for an organisation that can help, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org. It will make a vital difference to the futures of young people on your doorstep.