What is work experience?
Work experience is an arrangement where an employer hosts a work experience participant to help them develop skills, knowledge and experience. This can be beneficial for those who want to explore career options, or those who want to break into a particular industry or career. The benefits of work experience are numerous. Not only for the work experience participant, but for the host too. Here are just some of the benefits of work experience:
Benefits of work experience for participants
Work skills and experience
Job seekers, especially those starting out or changing careers, can face a catch 22 situation. They can’t get a job because they don’t have the required experience, yet they can’t get the experience without a job. A work experience placement enables them to gain important work skills, industry knowledge and experience.
Communication and interpersonal skills
Along with general work skills, work experience participants have the opportunity to develop their communication and interpersonal skills. They do this by interacting with a range of different people in the workplace. This includes learning how to work effectively within a team, with different co-workers, managers and customers.
One of the greatest advantages of participating in a work experience placement, is that the experience gained can be added to the participant’s CV. Employers look favorably upon work experience as it demonstrates initiative, a good work ethic and a shows a genuine interest in an industry.
World of work
Work experience enables a participant to experience the reality of working life. This is particularly important for young people with little or no previous work history. A work experience placement is a valuable learning experience as it enables participants to gain insight into various industries, organisational cultures and job roles. Some work experience programs feature a rotation though different departments giving valuable insight into the different roles and functions within an organisation.
Coaching and mentoring
Work experience participants often have the opportunity to receive coaching and mentoring to help them develop their professional and interpersonal skills. Keeping a learning journal throughout the work experience placement can help identify key learning and development that occurs during the placement.
Employers often use their work experience program as an avenue to recruit new trainees. During a work experience placement, the employer has the ability to see how well the participant fits withing the team, their work ethic and to consider their potential as a member of staff.
Benefits of work experience for employers
Employers benefit from work experience too. Here’s just some of the benefits for employers:
Work experience placements enable an employer to scout for talent, selecting the most appropriate individuals to join their team. This can also represent a significant saving in terms of recruitment time and cost.
The training, supervision and mentoring of work experience participants gives existing staff the opportunity to develop their own team management skills.
Work experience contributes to economic development by increasing the employability of participants, enriching the work environment and increasing productivity.
An active work experience program demonstrates the values of an organisation, reflecting on how it is viewed by the wider community. This positive image also impacts on employees as they develop respect and loyalty for their employer.
Arranging a work experience placement
Most students have an opportunity to participate in a work experience program at various stages of their secondary education. University students are also encouraged to undertake a work experience placement as part of undergraduate degrees. But you don’t have to be a student to participate and benefit from a work experience placement. Anyone can arrange a work experience placement although most work experience programs have been developed with students in mind.
Current high school or university students should approach your careers centre for advice on how to proceed with a work experience placement. In most cases they will arrange the placement and ensure that your health and safety is protected during the placement.
If you are not a student but want to do a work experience placement, you can try contacting employers directly. You can also get in touch with your local volunteering service or Job Centre for guidance.
Here are some useful links:
NCVO National Centre for Voluntary Organisations
Do-it Partners with volunteering centres across the country to provide a central searchable database for volunteering opportunites
vInspired Promotes volunteering opportunities for 16-25 year olds.
Alternatively you can contact an employer directly to see if they can arrange a work experience placement for you.
The company’s HR department will likely draw up an agreement and you should confirm that your host employer has appropriate Employers’ and Public Liability insurance to cover any workplace injuries that could occur during the period of your placement.
An alternative to work experience is volunteering. Volunteering can take place over a longer period and has similar advantages to work experience although a volunteer placement is likely to be less structured and the level of support will vary. You can learn more about volunteering from this blog post on the topic.