Work experience covers a range of opportunities, from attending the workplace in person, shadowing or observing a particular person or job role, volunteering or carrying out work remotely/virtually. What’s important is that your teen gets some first-hand experience of what it’s like to work.
Most schools focus on work experience for Years 11 and 13 in the summer term, but your teen can get work experience at any point in the school year. Try not to leave it until the last minute to secure their place. The best opportunities are likely to be very competitive and will often get snapped up quickly!
Traditionally, work experience happens at a place of work where students can get real-life, on site experience. This would usually be a one or two week placement, typically in the summer term.
Part of the experience would be dressing appropriately for the work environment, travelling to and from work, experiencing a full working day and getting a feel for how different job roles are inter-related and inter-dependent.
Whilst any work experience is great, if your teen has ambitions to do a particular job, it’s worth trying to get the experience within that sector. It can help your child discover more about the industry and may help them realise whether it is or isn’t for them. A lesson much better learned sooner than later! Work experience is also great to demonstrate passion for a subject where qualifications in sixth form aren’t usually offered such as architecture, medicine, law, accountancy and so on.
How you can help you teen find work experience:
Speak to your own contacts to see if they can help - friends, family, colleagues and neighbours
Encourage your child to speak with the careers team at school. They often have excellent connections with local and national employers
Contact employers directly and ask - either in person or by email
Get them to apply for a job (Saturdays, evenings, holidays) – it may not be their aspirational job, but it’s work experience and they’ll learn a lot from it (as well as earning some money)
If your child is struggling to find a suitable one or two week work placement, try looking at taking a different approach. Perhaps they could ask employers if they could visit for a day, support on a particular project, volunteer or work remotely. It’s better for your teen to accept a virtual or non-paying role rather than not get any experience at all.
Shadowing and observing
If your child is struggling to get some sort of work experience, they could always approach companies and see if they could observe or shadow an employee. Providing work experience requires considerable effort from companies in creating a programme and having staff on hand to run it. Not all companies have the resources to do this so allowing your teen to shadow or observe an employee in their business may be an attractive alternative. It’s hit and miss as to how well the person they’re watching explains the job along the way, but it does give them the opportunity of shadowing someone higher up in the organisation; something that may not be possible through traditional work placements.
There’s unlikely to be much in the way of paperwork for a shadowing role, so it’ll be up to your child to write up their experience and what they’ve learned from it. This is an important step, as it could be a long time between shadowing someone and talking about it at interview, so it could be easy to forget key learning points.
Spend the day with a personal assistant or business planning manager
Visit a film or television studio for an application to study media or film
Shadow a nurse at the hospital for an application to study medicine
Shadow a hotel, catering or games arcade manager for an insight into the hospitality industry
Even if your child can’t get an official observation or shadowing opportunity, they can still get relevant experience by exploring opportunities available for free to the general public, such as:
Watching a debate in Parliament for an application to study politics
Attending local magistrates court trials for an application to study law
Visiting an exhibition, public talk or museum to demonstrate interest in a particular subject
Volunteering is a fantastic way to get work experience, give something back to the community and try out new things. It could also be the start of a lifelong way of living that provides a great feeling of fulfilment and is proven to be a contributor to personal contentment.
Volunteering can take place in short bursts (for example volunteering a festival for a few days in the holidays) or on a regular basis (such as volunteering in a local animal shelter on weekend mornings). Whilst it wasn’t possible for some volunteering roles to exist during lockdown (many face to face centres had to close), lots of people took up roles helping vulnerable people get shopping, walking their dogs or even chatting to them on the phone if they lived alone and couldn’t see others.
Teens can also volunteer from home, such as preparing flyers, writing blogs or managing social media – a great way to connect with local charities and especially valued by small organisations that have limited resources.
Volunteering ideas include:
Local farm, zoo, veterinary practice or animal shelter;
Hospital, care home or hospice;
Local council or MP’s office;
Homeless shelter or a food bank;
Library or museum;
Local, national or international charities or political organisations
Festivals or live events
Virtual work experience and opportunities
With so many restrictions to contain Covid 19 since March 2020, there are now many virtual placement opportunities. It’s a broad term and can include any experience which provides young people with an insight into what it’s like to work in an industry or job role while at home. Most virtual work placements range from half a day to one week, but some may last longer depending on the nature of the work experience and the age of your child.
Not all virtual work experience is the same. Some are open to everyone and provide a platform for students to discover more about the job, view pre-recorded videos on what it’s like to work with the organisation, go on virtual tours and possibly take part in some live Q&A sessions. Others may require your child to go through an application process and offer regular online meetings with a supervisor, individual project work, networking sessions, training opportunities and video tutorial. Most placements are free, but some may charge a small fee.
For more information on virtual work experience, including details of companies offering them, check out our article on virtual work placements here.
Don’t forget that work experience also counts if your teen is doing weekend, evening or holiday work. Getting a local job means it’s much less likely to be closely related to their long-term ambitions, and more likely to be something practical, located close to home (such as a job in a shop, fast food chain or a bar). There’s still value to be gained from these roles, including working with others, dealing with the public, working under pressure, working unsocial hours and seeing how management roles differ from ground staff.
Depending on the opportunity and how long they have been working, it’s possible to develop all sorts of skills. It’s worth taking time out to chat through which skills they enjoyed developing, which ones they didn’t, and why.
Standing out from the crowd
Your teen will have their own goals and ambitions, but they might need your help in working out the steps to help them achieve these goals. The Parents' Guide to helping your child stand out explains how you can help your teen gain the competitive advantage, mostly by doing things they enjoy - check it out here!