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Government Work Experience Scheme - How Can it Work for SMEs?

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The debate about the government's work experience scheme has been raging for a couple of weeks now - and it has mainly been about the role of big corporates like Tesco.

My view on all of this is that the possibly unintended result of employment benefits is that someone is rewarded for sitting at home watching TV, getting out of the habit of working, getting up when they like and just surviving.

In the same way that dog training or parenting should reward the positive behaviours you would like to see, employment benefits should be used to reward the positive behaviours of people who would like to learn, grown and develop new skills whilst supporting the business prepared to invest in them.

If a company like Tesco is prepared to invest all the time and resources required to induct, train and motivate people who would otherwise be sat at home not contributing to the country's economic recovery, it seems fair that they get something back for it in free labour! Yes, someone with a degree might not be working towards their chosen career path by stacking shelves but they are at least doing something whilst getting proper corporate training, an insight into how big companies work and a foot in the door. I believe in hiring for attitude and not for skill and to me there is no doubt that if you show that you are willing to get up in the morning and do something, you will be more of an asset to my business!

However, the real issue is that those businesses that most need an extra pair of hands - SMEs - simply can't afford to invest in getting people up to speed so that they become a help as opposed to a hindrance!

Guardian readers were asked what the Government's work experience scheme should look like and they came up with five suggestions
1. All schemes should be voluntary
2. They should take into account the individual's career hopes
3. They should take experience and qualifications seriously
4. They should offer a learning experience
5. There should be a time limit

These suggestions are all valid and will lead to more engaged, more empowered people who will ultimately make a greater contribution to the companies they work for and go on to work for, and to society. But they are all about the employee - not the employer. That is one thing when we are talking about Tesco, but a completely different thing when we are talking about SMEs!

What incentive is there for small businesses to take on the burden of a voluntary work experience candidate who they have to help fulfil career their personal career goals, give them experience and qualifications, take the time to teach them new skills and then lose them before they can have an impact on the business?!

Here are my five suggestions for how the Government can encourage SMEs to take on work experience candidates through their scheme
1. Find SMEs that really need the help and suggest cost effective ways of finding the capacity to take on and train up new people
2. 'Matchmake' candidates whose career hopes are in line with the company's goals
3. Provide SMEs with support with training work experience candidates in basic skills
4. Set realistic guidelines for what constitutes a 'learning experience' and use case studies to show what people can get out of just being part of a small business in any guise
5. Let the SME set the time scale according to what will have the greatest impact on their business - and therefore be of most benefit to the person doing the work experience

SMEs have a huge amount to offer both in terms of economic recovery and ensuring that we don't have a 'lost generation' of unemployed people - so we need a work experience scheme that works for them!