Work experience has long been available to students, with businesses, universities and colleges working hard to make it effective for all involved. However, there are some significant challenges in the quality, quantity and access.
Work experiences can often be low level admin, or at the very worst, dogsbody tasks. In addition, there’s a massive shortfall in the number of work experience opportunities available for the 2.3 million university and college students in the UK.
A report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility found two-thirds of businesses cite work experience as a critical factor in recruiting entry-level talent. Yet only one third of employers are offering it.
So how can we ensure talented graduates have the necessary employability skills to make it into the labour market more rapidly and successfully? Offering work experience to students is one vital part of the solution.
Here are three key ways you can use work experience to attract the skills and talent you need, into your business:
1. Make work experience, work for everyone: create an activity plan
The stereotype of a work experience placement is a student making coffee, photocopying or tidying stationery cupboards. Placements of this kind are of little benefit to the student or the employer. At Placer, we know there are employers working hard to develop structured programmes of work for work experience students, but how should this look in practice?
Employers should take time to work with colleagues to establish concise, valuable and engaging projects the individual can take ownership of prior to their arrival at the office. Beneficial to both parties is choosing non-urgent work that would profit from a fresh young perspective.
Similarly, employers should take the time to understand each individual’s particular interests, as well as rotating them between business divisions – to give them a chance to develop skills whilst getting an overview of the organisation, and a chance to discover where they might best fit in.
In addition, a thorough, well-prepared work plan means your work experience student can perform tasks without the need for constant monitoring, giving them a sense of independence which is crucial for the world of work.
Finally, employers should ensure they set aside time throughout the placement, and particularly at the end of it, to hear from the student about their experience, understand the key learnings, and establish potential areas where the placement could be improved. Leaving on an amicable note will enable the student to maintain a positive opinion of your business, hopefully keeping you front-of-mind when they are searching for a graduate role.
2. Move beyond ineffective word-of-mouth networks
Research from the National Centre for Universities and Business, one of Placer’s co-founding partners, found that word-of-mouth networks are still being used by employers as a key channel to recruit for work experience.
Word-of-mouth networks are narrow and, as a recruitment channel, are prone to reinforcing the current demographic of the workforce. This means businesses risk missing out on innovative and creative minds who are outside of their own existing net.
To truly attract and recruit the best talent, employers need a more structured approach to recruiting work experience candidates. Advertising opportunities publicly, helps attract bright students from a wide range of backgrounds into your organisation – which has a direct impact on the bottom line. Reporting from McKinsey shows that companies with a diverse mix of employees are 35% more likely to innovate and outperform their competitors.
Placer enables you to offer work experience in a structured way that opens the door to students from less advantaged backgrounds, who may not have the ‘right’ connections but can bring so much to your organisation. Placer’s technology helps to reduce unconscious bias, allowing employers to tap into the thousands of passionate and talented students by offering quality work experience placements
3. Create a pool of talent to source future employees
If businesses use work experience in the right way it can be hugely effective in recruiting a fresh talent young talent pipeline with the diversity of skills your business need.
A work experience programme is a great way to develop skills specific to your business, as well as exposing bright young minds to your organisation’s culture. Regularly communicating with this pool of work experience talent, beyond the end of a placement, means that as and when appropriate roles arise, you can access suitably skilled graduates who are ready to hit the ground running at your organisation.
If employers want the best, they have to be the best. Employers of all sizes can use work experience to help students develop the skills the business needs while they are still in education. As a result, once students have graduated they are ready to make the transition into the workplace and start bringing their knowledge, and work-ready ideas into your business. It’s win-win!
If you’re an employer looking to offer work experience, or you already do, sign-up to Placer.
By David Docherty, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Businesses and Chairman of Placer.