Why work experience needs to be reinvented

Year 10 work experience at The Elmgreen School is fast approaching and the panic has set in. The organised, well-connected kids (with good support from family) have got their placements sorted . A good proportion say they have got “something ” (we’re not sure what) and about a third of kids have no idea where to start.

Work experience is crucial – employers say it is the key to employment and research shows contact with employers can inoculate kids from future unemployment. Yet it is getting harder and harder to make it happen.

Schools are not resourced to broker relationships with employers and organise placements so most rely on informal family connections or pro-active confident kids.

But this is not the only reason. There is a massive shortfall in supply of placements from employers. This is not necessarily because employers are unwilling, but because the nature of modern work does not easily lend itself to the traditional week long placement.

I have spoken to many employers who say “we’d love to offer a work experience placement, but we just don’t have anything for them to do”.

Customer service environments and front office roles (inc. shops and charity shops) can more easily offer work placements, and young people will learn key communication skills.

But if we want to open young people’s eyes to future careers we need to give them access to professional work placements and most professional people are busy getting stuff done. They don’t have a stack of filing or other “boring but useful” tasks to give to a work experience student. Work has become more efficient, using technology and bespoke systems, which often require permissions or specialised skills to use.

But crucially, most work these days is organised into projects – people are in and out of the office meeting clients or partners or working in teams or alone, often out of the office or from home. This applies to high value and creative work in most sectors.

Many creative professions are increasingly dominated by freelancers or very small businesses who don’t have the space or manpower to supervise a student. Changes to technology mean often all you need to produce music, film or design is a small amount of kit and a laptop so there isn’t even a workplace to go to.

In response to these challenges we have created a new approach.

We call it challenge based work experience.

We believe young people have the creative ability to deliver real value to businesses and employers.

Through this programme young people effectively work as consultants. The employer defines a project brief and we recruit, coach, up-skill and support young people, working in teams, to deliver quality solutions to meet that brief. They do it in an intensive, energising, memorable one week experience.

This is real work that gives young people real skills and confidence and delivers to employers the projects they need. We are now working with three employers on our first programmes.

We think this could be the future of work experience.

If you have a project you think young people could deliver, please get do in touch with us by e-mailing abigail@rawtalentlondon.org







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