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Work experience: why it's a great opportunity for you, your business and the student

Remember your work experience week?

Many of us remember doing a week of work experience as a teenager. For some, it offered the first taste of a business environment so it often lingers in the memory. But how do children find placements now, how can employers help and how can they benefit too?

It can be tough. Last year, for example, one Basingstoke student who came to us on work experience told us that just 50% of the children in her class had found a similar placement.

There are charities/not-for-profit organisations such as EBP South which can find places for children but this costs the school money it may not have.

So we want to inspire business owners and managers to help give children more opportunities and alleviate the pressure on them and their parents to find placements.

At Front Page Advantage, we offer a week’s work experience for three children a year, at different times and from different schools. It’s proved thoroughly rewarding for us and our staff.

Below, we discuss some of the potential hurdles of taking on students – and how to overcome them. Plus, we talk to both students and parents who’ve tried to find placements. It can be a minefield for the latter, especially if they don’t have contacts in relevant businesses.

Work experience: the employer perspective

We’re office-based, so in many ways we’re ideally placed to take on students. But for traditional tradespeople, there can be insurance issues, site access problems or possible niggles with DBS requirements. But read on – it’s not as daunting as you think.

Our first practical hurdle was not having a spare laptop for a student to use. Solution – schools have spares so students can often bring their own.

The second hurdle was that we work from home two days a week. But, to help out, our staff are happy to come in so that enough people are around to support the student.

What about health and safety? When you first take on a student, their school will provide (via a third party) a questionnaire taking you through what you need to have in place which really isn’t any more than the common-sense approaches most small businesses already adopt.

If you don’t have anyone DBS checked, you’ll need to have at least two people working with the student at any time. But just ask the school or third-party facilitating company if you have any reservations, and they’ll gladly discuss these with you.

What can small businesses get work experience students to do?

Not sure what the student will do while they’re with you? Aim for tasks that allow them to show creativity and initiative but which aren’t overly repetitive. Yes it’s nice for you to benefit, but it should be a mutually beneficial experience providing the student with a good overview of your sector. We get the students to plan social media posts, write articles on something and research it themselves and use Canva to create graphics for social media or our website. We also use work shadowing where they don’t actually ‘do’ anything but gain exposure to our sector and can ask questions. If all else fails, get them to create a TikTok account for you and plan/publish a post.

Students’ perspective on finding a placement

“Finding a local work experience placement was difficult. I emailed seven or eight companies, but only a few replied, declining with no reason. The others seemed to ignore my requests. My parents also helped in the placement search.

“My friends struggled too, and none had multiple options on offer. Many resorted to working with parents while some could not secure a placement, so stayed in school.

“I consider myself lucky to have found a placement I was interested in. I did enjoy my work experience and learned a lot about the workplace first-hand.”

Secondary school student, Basingstoke.

Parents’ perspective on finding a placement

”The school didn’t find placements, so it was completely up to the parents/students.

“The sector I work in is different to the one my child’s interested in and most of my work contacts are in the same one so couldn’t help. We were left on our own asking people we didn’t know for help.

“We sent out some emails without much joy. We cold-called local companies and were lucky to find that Front Page Advantage was willing to provide an opportunity.

“It’s disappointing that the school couldn’t help more.

“Lots of parents in my child’s class had similar frustrations and only half the children found placements.”

How can you help?

Business owners in Basingstoke can contact EBP South to register as a business taking on students. They’ll tell you all you need to know, and match you with a student. You can interview the teenager before taking them on to ensure they’re a good fit, or just take whoever is assigned to you.

If you’re a business manager, speak to your business owner, MD, CEO or HR department. Be passionate and convincing – some might see work experience as an admin headache. But it’s worth persisting.

Share this article on social media – you never know which of your contacts might be able to help. 

Our thanks to Chris Pearson, owner of Front Page Advantage, who wrote this article. Find him on LinkedIn, via the Front Page Advantage website.

August 2023

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