18 August 2013

How work experience opens doors
(from The Telegraph)

Work experience is the bridge between classroom and workplace and can prove invaluable for young people swapping school for the big wide world.

It is a rite of passage in the lives of teenagers around the country: the day they leave behind the security of the classroom to dip their toes into an unfamiliar world in the time-honoured custom of work experience.

Some will be excited  at the prospect of sampling life beyond school, others will be nervous at stepping out of their comfort zone.

But it doesn't have to be an ordeal. Work experience can provide an insight into a different environment.  It can help young people decide if a career is for them.  And it can be very handy when it comes to getting a real job as any embellishment to the CV is likely to be valuable.

Work experience usually involves sending Year 10 students for up to two weeks work experience during the summer at the end of the academic year.

Choosing how to spend work experience time is straightforward for those who already have career plans but many of that age have no idea of what he or she wants to do.

Even for those still in the dark, a placement can be useful as it helps them discover the types of careers that are out there and the pathway to get there, which will then give them an idea of the qualifications they need.

Many students find placements themselves, through friends and family, and any other contacts they may have.  This does show initiative and another reason for tapping contacts is that, with firms shedding staff and reluctant to give extra work supervising students to those who remain, it's increasingly difficult to find companies willing to provide placements.

Those who organise work experience usually visit the workplace before the placement, checking the environment is suitable, that the tasks the young people will be required to do are reasonable, that health and safety regulations are followed and that employers' insurance is adequate.  Employees do not generally need to be checked for any criminal records.

In additional to local bye laws that may affect the sort of work under-16s can do, children on work experience should not normally work for more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week.  This limit should take account of any part-time and Saturday jobs.

Work experience must be unpaid, although employers may pay expenses.  Students should be given the chance to experience the full range of the company's activities, and not just photocopying or making the tea.  It should be a realistic exposure to the work place.  Boring tasks can be a part of that, but there should be a learning element to it.

The benefits of work experience can be substantial.  A good placement makes young people more realistic and able to make informed career choices.  It also provides concrete evidence of interest in a particular career to both university admissions officers and future employers.

While work experience helps young people align their skills with what employers are looking for, the benefits are not limited to one industry as work experience is always a good thing, regardless of where it is.  The young person is getting up every day, coming into work and doing the routine elements of work.

But there is also a more immediate impact on the students, one that is often visible in the immediate aftermath of students' first placements:  They grow up and become noticeably more mature.  It helps them see what they have to do and think about in the long term.

Here are some important dos and don't of how to get the most out of work experience ...

Act professionally:  Turn up on time, follow the dress code, if there is one, stick to prescribed breaks, do not complain of being bored and expect to stay until the end of the working day.

Be realistic about what you will be doing:  There is likely to be an amount of routine involved and not all of the tasks you do will be scintillating.

If you finish one task, instead of  waiting until you're given another one, ask what else you can do.

If you have any concerns, talk to your supervisor, or contact the school or placement organiser to sort it out.


DO talk to your child about what careers interest them and what placements might be relevant.
DO encourage your son or daughter to take responsibility for getting to their placement on time and suitably dressed.
DO make sure the employers knows of any medical issues.
DO provide support and encouragement but take a back seat so children can stand on their own two feet.

DON'T push your child into a placement because you think it's the sort of thing they ought to do, or because your happen to have a cousin in that field.
DON'T rush to collect your child from their placement at the first sign he or she is unhappy.  Encourage him or her to resolve problems with the employer first, or to involve the school if that is not possible.


DO plan what students will do.  This helps make the placement worthwhile, and also means you do not have to start from scratch every time.
DO give one employee overall responsibility for a person on placement - this can help develop supervisory skills in staff, while avoiding students being shunted between unwilling hosts.
DO try to provide a varied programme that takes in as much of the department's work as possible.
DO set a project or task to complete during a work placement.

DON'T make it too formal or create a programme that is too rigid: the idea is to introduce them to a new environment, not to replicate school.
DON'T use work experience to replace an existing job.

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