There are certain rites of passage from year 11 onwards and one that most students typically remember is work experience. It’s an opportunity to spend a week or two gaining experience at a company or organisation, shadowing people who are doing jobs that interest you. Depending upon your school, you may be given a specific date to complete work experience, or you may find you are given more freedom to choose how and when you complete it, and perhaps do one day a week over a period of time.
In the last 12 months it has been virtually impossible to do placements due to Covid, but hopefully, as restrictions are loosened, work experience will once again become a part of the school calendar. For some students it might have been a relief not to have done it. It’s true that it can be a headache for several reasons – “I don’t know what to do” - “I don’t want to do it’ – “what’s the point?” Or, “I know what I’d like to do but I have no idea how to get a placement.” Some students may be able to get placement through someone they know, but that’s not the case for the majority. So, if it’s such a hassle, why bother?
Well, it can be a fantastic and potentially lifechanging experience for the student (and the employer, but more about that in the next blog) in the following ways:
- Learning about the job – rather than just reading about a particular job on the internet, you’ll get a real feel for what the role is all about and this will help to bring it to life. A few days in the workplace can help you to come to a decision about a future career. This may come from a positive experience but a negative reaction is equally valuable. If you don’t like it, then at least you know early on, and you can start to explore other avenues.
- Learning about yourself - it’s not just the job you find out about. You may discover more about yourself, or the kind of workplace you want to be in. For example, are you an indoor or outdoor person? Do you prefer routine and clear tasks or do you want a job that is more unpredictable and varied? Do you like working as part of a large team in a big office or do you prefer to work more on your own, even perhaps, be self-employed, working from home? Homeworking has been forced on some employees during the pandemic but in the future, individuals may be given more of a choice about how and where they work. Maybe you’d never thought much about the kind of workplace you might prefer. Work experience gives you the chance to start to think about specific jobs and the kind of work place environment that will suit you.
- Skills development – you may very well start to build or develop your existing skills that employers are keen to see in prospective employees. For example, teamworking, problem solving, self-management, communication or resilience. You may be working with people of all ages and doing tasks that you may never have come across before which will help you build your skills set as well as increase your self-confidence.
- CV / job applications - you can demonstrate to potential employers how well suited you are to a job, apprenticeship or internship through your experiences at various placements. Think about situations during work experience which required you to demonstrate certain skills – these skills are transferable to other jobs and will make your application stand out from the crowd.
- Networking – you can never start networking early enough. You never know when that person you had a cup of tea with, may be the one who tells you about your dream job. You’ll meet a range of people in the workplace – take advantage of it. Talk to your work colleagues, ask them questions, be curious and enthusiastic – it won’t go unnoticed. If you’ve made a positive impression you may even be encouraged to apply for vacancies when they arise, or apply for internships. Keep in touch if you can via LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Even if you don’t get your foot in the door first time round, you will need references to support future job applications. If you’ve done well in your work experience placement, a glowing reference may well help to open the next job door.