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Establishing and running a work experience scheme

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Work experience is something which is often neglected in an organisation in favour of more high profile issues which are immediately relevant to staff. Setting up a formal programme may appear a waste of time, but ultimately setting up clear procedures and processes will remove administration effort involved in handling unplanned placements and will help to add value to the experience for all involved. The
Dearing Report stated that only half of all secondary schools had a written policy for work experience – it will benefit the employer to be better organised and help to target students who will begin the programme with enthusiasm and leave with an increased understanding of what the world of work in that employment sector involves.

Gaining management buy-in for a work experience scheme
Deciding on the participants
Planning a timetable for the scheme
The selection procedure
Equal Opportunities
Publicising your scheme
Getting employees involved
Arranging a programme of activities
Publicising your scheme
For further information

Gaining management buy-in for a work experience scheme

There are clearly mutual benefits to be had from a work experience scheme which works well. It provides an opportunity to encourage staff to develop supervisory and tutoring skills, and can give students an opportunity for some invaluable experience. It’s also a chance to identify potential talent for future opportunities within a company, either through a longer placement, temporary position or ultimately by taking on a student as a permanent employee. It also offers the chance to address Equal Opportunities issues by targeting all or part of scheme at particular parts of the community and also acts as a way of publicising both the organisation and industry sector in which it operates. The set-up costs of such a scheme should not be high; the key consideration is often setting aside staff time to oversee the students and the programme itself.

Deciding on the participants

In 1998 the government introduced legislation enabling all pupils in the last two years of compulsory education to undertake a work experience placement. Many schools aim to provide this during the fourth year of senior school, also known as Year 10, when students will be 14 or 15 years old. Although many companies will be able to offer placements to students of this age, it may be necessary however for insurance reasons to restrict the lower age limit to 16. If equipment or technology is particularly complex it may also be more beneficial to restrict schemes to older students who may be better able to play a supporting part in the work that goes on.

Running a scheme for college or university students opens up the possibility of running a longer scheme or placement, with the additional benefit of taking on more mature students who may have a fair degree of work-applicable knowledge. If it’s older students you’re attracting, it’s also worth considering whether an upper age limit should be applied.

http://www.tcd.co.uk/schemes/index.htmlexists to bring together companies and students for industrial placements.

Planning a timetable for the scheme

Whether to operate a fixed programme at certain times during the year or to invite students in throughout the year will be very much dependent on operational requirements and availability of someone to oversee the programme. There are definite advantages to setting a programme for the year: it makes it clear to schools and colleges when you will be accepting students, easier to plan for mentors to be available and there’s the opportunity to take on a small group of students together, providing them with some peer support. It also makes it easier to operate a formal selection procedure, although selection could be carried out several months in advance for dates to be determined later on. If operational planning is done on a short timescale, however, it may be impossible to predict too far in advance when the company will be able to accommodate work experience students.

If you do decide to settle on set weeks for your programme, local Business Links should be able to provide you with a list detailing local schools’ planned weeks for work experience so that you can arrange to fit in with as many of these as possible.

The selection procedure

It goes without saying that some sort of selection procedure needs to be in place. As 98% of students in the last two years of compulsory education now take part in a work experience scheme, there are a lot of students looking for places. This will be particularly the case if yours is a sought-after sector of the workplace. The best way to handle the selection of students is to treat the procedure as if it were a job selection procedure. Although it may not be practical to interview candidates, completing a short and simple application form will be good practice for the many job applications students will face in years to come! Questions should centre around their motivation behind their application and personal skills or relevant work skills if appropriate.


Equal Opportunities

Work Experience is one area where implementing an Equal Opportunities policy can have an obvious and pretty immediate impact. Suprisingly though, one area of resistance can come from staff themselves, who may view a placement for their son or daughter as part of their benefits package! Think carefully also before signing up with companies who exist to place students from a certain number of schools – they’re likely to be keen to have a place set aside for one of those students, regardless of the selection process you intend to use. A good programme will have a selection process which stretches as wide as possible to ensure that any students who may be interested are aware of the programme and have a chance to apply. You may also choose to actively encourage applications from parts of the local community which are currently not represented in the organisation.

Publicising your scheme

It has to be said that a work experience scheme is a prime opportunity for an organisation to market itself to future consumers and indeed potential future employees. A student who has had a good experience will retain the knowledge he or she has gained about the company and this will spread through word of mouth to friends and relatives. It’s therefore a great opportunity to increase links within the local community. Key to this is to make sure you let as many people as possible know about it – this could be through advertising in the local press, sending out packs and leaflets to local schools, colleges and community groups.

A growing number of schools are now running their own careers days, at which employers are invited to talk or run a stand. This may be worth considering if you are a local employer and will be looking primarily to attract local applicants for jobs in the future, or would like to target particular areas of the local community currently under-represented in your organisation, but there can be a fair amount of time involved in releasing staff for these events – be careful not to over-commit to them! Alternatively look at running your own open day or joining forces with other employers to run an event. Also worth a look is Everything Education, which offers a place to advertise placements.

Getting employees involved

The success of a work experience scheme is very much down to the people who make it happen within an organisation. Key to this is establishing a network of potential mentors who are willing to undertake the role regularly and have an input into the scheme. Mentoring can be an excellent opportunity for employees to gain experience in supervising, training or coaching others, and may even form part of an NVQ or other programme of development. Get them involved with overseeing a programme of activities and providing the student with feedback after the event. The HR department is the obvious choice for co-ordinating the programme across the board, and dedicating the task to one member of the team can give them the opportunity to build up relationships with work experience co-ordinators in schools and colleges.

Arranging a programme of activities

Of course, the exact programme of activities will vary from student to student and from organisation to organisation, but consider getting the students input before they arrive. Which areas of work are they particularly interested in? What would they like to have achieved by the end of the programme? By asking them to complete a short questionnaire before they arrive, you will help them to think about their motivation and clarify their objectives for the week ahead. This can then be used to influence the planned programme and as a review document at the end of the scheme. You may also want to devise a short ‘job description’ for the placement.

Health and Safety

Although clear information on the issues are quite difficult to come by, the key to ensuring the health and safety aspects of work experience programmes is ‘better safe than sorry’. The DfEE places an onus of responsibility on the schools themselves when it says that “the involvement of other agencies such as Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs), Education Business Partnerships (EBPs), careers services and Trident does not alter the overall responsibility of LEAs and schools for ensuring that each pupil has a work experience programme which meets their needs in a safe and secure environment.” They also have a statutory duty under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure that as far as is possible, the placements they arrange will be safe. The DfEE recommends that work experience co-ordinators in schools carry out risk assessments and provide pupils with safety briefing and de-briefing. It also recommends that there be documentation to cover monitoring, induction and supervision, so be prepared to send this information to schools before the placement starts.

A key safeguard on the employer’s side is to establish employer liability insurance. Schools may ask to see a copy of a certificate confirming this is in place. Check with those responsible for buildings services or health and safety what is going to be covered, and what the situation is when taking students off-site.

For further guidance, the Health and Safety Executive publishes a comprehensive guide called Managing Health and Safety on Work Experience: A Guide For Organisers, which illustrates best practice in complying with Health and Safety law for work experience programmes. The Department for Education and Employment also publish a guide for employers which can be ordered from the DfEE website. The Centre for Education and Industry publishes another booklet entitled “Work Experience and the Law” which is available from Simulus Education Services Ltd, 12 Dickerage Road, Kingston upon Thames KT1 3SP, price £20 + £1.50 p&p, Tel/Fax 0181 942 0308 to obtain a copy.

For further information

The National Centre for Work Experience concentrates many on undergraduate students and includes results of studies into the effectiveness of work experience programmes, publishes booklets to buy and hosts a number of workshops for those interested in getting involved, along with links to other sites. The National Association for Managers of Student Services in Colleges also publish a site with links to a number of useful resources.
UK Work Experience aims to be a central resource for anyone interested in developing work experience programmes, but the site doesn’t look as though it’s been updated for some time.

One Response

  1. Manufacture of Industrial coatings
    Is there anything published for what a young work experience candidate can and cannot do, in relation to the job they are learning. Is there a set procedure for what is allowed?

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