It's exam season again and, as usual, the focus is on who got what grades. Yet, time and time again employers tell us that what they really care about in new recruits has nothing to do with As and Bs, and everything to do with work experience.
Although it hasn't been compulsory since 2012, work experience is incredibly valuable; our research shows that 80 per cent of employers think it's essential and 67% would be more inclined to hire a young person with work experience.
With youth unemployment lingering at 16%, it's crucial that young people have the chance to immerse themselves in the workplace, so they're in a stronger position to enter the job market and develop the valuable skills that our economy needs.
At the City & Guilds Group, we set ourselves a target to provide 100 work experience placements, and 100 one-day workshops for young people by the end of the year. This is a massive commitment for an organisation our size, but I'm proud to say we're well on the way to achieving it. And, we've already started to realise some of the business benefits.
It's been a fantastic motivational tool for our staff, who have enjoyed watching how much young people can develop in a short space of time, and their excitement in discovering the different career paths available to them. The young people have also brought a fresh perspective on some of our common business challenges, which is particularly important as a big part of what we do is about supporting young people into work.
Making work experience count
It's clear that work experience is important, and benefits individuals and businesses alike. The challenge is ensuring plenty of high-quality placements are available. We've all heard stories about people being brought in to make tea and do the filing. But the experience needs to be richer, providing real projects and opportunities for a young person to get 'stuck in'.
Businesses have a responsibility to get this right. So here are five things to remember when creating a solid work experience programme:
1. Creating quality work experience takes time; it requires a level of resource to coordinate and administer the programme. To get the real benefit from work experience, it can't be just thrown together.
2. Managing a young person is different in many ways to managing an older member of staff. Providing some training and advice to work experience "line managers" in advance will help them provide the right kind of tasks for the individual, and save unwanted surprises on the first day of the placements.
3. During the process all students should be interviewed. This sets the tone for the placement and the expectations of the organisation. A job specification should also be offered so they have clear objectives and goals throughout their work experience. Then, at the end of the placement they can be measured against these and given feedback.
4. Work experience programmes should be promoted internally and externally to maximise awareness about the opportunities available, and encourage applications. Collaborating with schools to offer opportunities is another option that can and should be explored. An example of this in action is Career Ready, an organisation that connects young people with industry mentors and relevant internship opportunities.
5. There's no need to start from scratch! There are plenty of organisations that have created solid, valuable work experience programmes. A great example is Barclays LifeSkills which helps employers take on work experience students and provide a rich experience too. Another great example is Work Inspiration, an employer-led campaign created by our partner Business in the Community. As part of the campaign, they developed a toolkit to help businesses create inspiring work experience placements.
Creating a high-quality work experience programme takes time and effort, but the pay-off is definitely worth it.