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Owen Morgan

Penna plc

Commercial And Operations Director

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How businesses can follow best practice when it comes to work experience

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While the Office for National Statistics has recorded youth unemployment figures steadily falling, it seems that the number of businesses bemoaning the lack of young people with workplace ready skills isn’t. Research from Barclays found that one-in-five businesses said young people were “not ready” for entry level jobs, with 55 per cent claiming school leavers struggled to manage conversations properly when asked to call clients or suppliers.

Investing the time necessary

There is clearly more work to be done with connecting businesses and educational institutions, to ensure that young people are equipped with the right skills for the workplace, and this is not a new issue either. So whilst relationships continue to be forged to bridge this gap, it’s crucial that companies invest time in creating quality work experience programmes in the interim – to help young people gain the skills they need for the future and for businesses to have access to the talent needed for growth during the economic recovery.  

‘Poor planning’

Unfortunately, many work experience programmes are poorly planned, run, and are sometimes, although not intentionally, used as a source for cheap labour. When work experience programmes are done effectively though, with forward planning in place, all parties benefit. The young person on work experience will have acquired vital skills and experience needed for their future career along with an understanding of what to expect in a business environment or from different functions, and the business will have had their hand in crafting the next generation of talent – whilst also creating brand ambassadors for their business and potential future employees.

Penna has recently collaborated with Spark!, a charity that works with education providers and businesses to prepare young people for working life, developing employability skills programmes, including meaningful work experience programmes suitable for 15-18 year olds. Linking with major brands, such as Sky and GSK, students’ chart their work experience progress, tracking what skills they have learnt and gaining insight into how they will be important in the future. The benefits of creating quality work experience have been apparent all round, for both the young people and businesses we’ve worked with. Below are some of the ways you could replicate the success of the programmes:

1) Assigning a work experience lead

By putting an employee in charge of a work experience candidate, there is accountability for the individual – this prevents a young person coming in, with nothing to do apart from making teas and coffees or undertaking basic tasks and learning a limited amount of useful skills.. Having an employee in charge of a work experience programme also gives them the chance to practice their managerial skills and become a mentor – which can form part of achieving their personal development objectives. With Penna’s research recently finding that ‘lack of opportunity’ was the main reason for an employee to leave their job, a reason cited higher than pay, managing a work experience programme can provide a new learning opportunity and create greater responsibility for employees.

2) Get input from the business

Ask around the company in advance of the work experience candidate joining, about how they could support with workloads. Whilst training will be needed with the individual up front on how to do a task, workloads can then be alleviated – giving more senior professionals in the business more time to focus on other activity, whilst the young person gains valuable workplace skills. For example, taking meeting notes can alleviate an admin burden– but it also teaches the work experience candidate how to listen, take effective notes, how to behave in a business environment, dress smartly for the meeting and hit deadlines for getting the meeting notes back to the senior person for review. Whilst these tasks will require brief training up front, the work experience candidate can then join further meetings, taking notes, and hone their workplace skills further.

Finding out from colleagues about what has worked well, and what hasn’t, on previous work experience placements can help create a programme that will continue to benefit the business too. This then helps to ensure work experience programmes are a companywide initiative, allowing everyone to have their say and input – increasing engagement in turn.

3) Feedback to third parties

Where work experience programmes have been organised in partnership with a school, university, charity or education institution, it’s important to feedback to those involved in organising the placement about how the candidate fared during their time at the company. This then enables the person organising the work experience to amend their teaching programme to cover new core workplace skills, or constructively feedback to the candidate where there is room for improvement. It can also be used to show where there are particular strengths and highlight what their passions and motivations are – which can help the individual understand where there may be job opportunities in the future. This feedback is particularly valuable, especially where quality career advice may be lacking elsewhere.  

Overall, work experience programmes can have multiple benefits if managed effectively. They help to tackle numerous challenges seen on both macro and micro scales. Young people gain the skills needed for the working world, helping to drive down youth unemployment further and create employable graduates and young people, whilst the business can benefit from the managerial opportunities the programme provides to their employees. Work experience candidates can pick up tasks from more senior employees, alleviating pressures in the workplace whilst learning on the job and preparing them for the world of work.

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Owen Morgan

Commercial And Operations Director

Read more from Owen Morgan
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