The importance of work experience
by Laraine Kirkham
Competition for jobs is becoming an increasing problem for our youngsters and making yourself stand out from the crowd is no longer simply about the grades you achieve at GCSE or A level. It is about other skills and interests, whether these are sporting, musical, artistic, creative, interpersonal, innovative, specific or generalised. Every student leaving school or university is unique and will need to be able to identify, with greater clarity, what their interests are. Work experience is a great way to do this, because employers are now looking to recruit students and graduates who have some knowledge of the world of work, gained from a variety of work experience opportunities.
What does the term ‘work experience’ mean?
With schools, work placements are only available in Years 10 or 11. You won’t be able to do a work placement with your school until you reach this age and not all offer this now. However, there are many work experience opportunities for post GCSE and A level students which should be considered seriously if you are going to stand out from the crowd. Contact your careers advisor for more information.
Work experience is any paid or voluntary time that you spent in a workplace to get to know it better. There are many types of work experience, which can range from a one-off visit to a workplace, regular weekly visits to work that last for months. It can also include anything from mowing lawns, babysitting and working as a volunteer, to part-time work and on-the-job training.
A work placement is your opportunity to spend a period of time outside the classroom, learning about a particular job or area of work. During your placement, you’ll be able to find out what skills employers look for when they’re hiring someone to fill a job vacancy. You will also get the chance to develop your self-confidence and communication skills. This will help you to work better with other people in further or higher education, as well as in your future career.
Sandwich placements: assessed paid work which is part of a student’s course. It is often of one year’s duration.
Work-based project: A specific piece of assessed work for a course, undertaken at an employer’s premises.
Work placement: A period of work experience, which can be paid or unpaid, and is part of a course of study. This can be arranged through your university with an employer or by yourself and is for an agreed period of time.
Voluntary work: Any type of work undertaken for no payment, usually outside of your course and in your spare time.
Part-time work: Paid or unpaid work undertaken during term-time.
Work shadowing: Where a student observes a member of staff working in an organisation, and so gains an understanding of what a particular job entails.
Internships: A phrase that is increasingly used by large companies and refers to a placement within their organisation.
Vacation work: This could be paid part-time or temporary work for students or full time work for graduates looking to enhance their CVs or improve job prospects
What are the benefits of doing work experience?
Learning about a job or industry, and making contacts
During work experience you can see first-hand what happens in a typical day on the job. Getting a realistic idea of the positive and negative parts of a job helps you make a more informed choice.
Meeting people in the job means you can ask them questions, such as what they like best about their job, how they ended up in their line of work, and what qualifications they have.
Meeting people in the job also helps you to start building a network of contacts in an industry you like, which can help you find a job later on.
You can learn about related jobs in the same field, which could give you more ideas about what kind of career you might go into.
It proves you were motivated enough to find out about their industry.
Doing work experience lets a potential employer see what kind of person you are - and you also get to find out about the employer. If the employer likes your attitude and you are a good fit for the company, there could be a potential job offer later on.
Below are some useful contacts, but there is nothing better than using your initiative and making direct contact with vocational employers such as vets, lawyers, doctors, hospitals etc and recruitment agencies. The time spent doing this will pay dividends later!