Workplace Wisdom | Living North

Workplace Wisdom


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At this time of year pupils may be considering work experience placements and summer jobs. What benefits are there to undertaking work experience and how can students apply what they've learned in school to the working environment?

'Work experience placements are invaluable as long as they are meaningful and both sides – pupil and employer – make the effort to make the arrangement work. At their best they are a great opportunity to get an insight into the world of work, and the day-to-day life of a particular business. In our experience the placements are more valuable if they are properly integrated into an ongoing careers programme in school. For example, our careers education programme runs throughout the senior school, and is specifically tailored to helping girls find suitable work placements from Year 10 onwards. 

As well as exploring future career routes, work placements and holiday jobs also help develop important employability skills such as working as part of a team, communication, managing time effectively and problem solving. This has the additional benefit of providing pupils with real life examples that can be used in personal statements, UCAS forms, interviews, and job applications. Both sides need to be well prepared; this includes managing expectations and encouraging the young person to make the most of this valuable opportunity. For example we provide our girls with a work placement diary with relevant questions to encourage them to think through different aspects of their experience. 

Most employers are very conscientious in their responsibilities but, unfortunately, we also hear of a few bad experiences. In this context, I support the work experience charter developed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Employers who follow the guide and commit to the charter will deliver 10 key principles, including tailoring placements to individual needs, and ensuring they give young people a solid introduction to working life.' 

Hilary French, Headmistress, Central Newcastle High School GDST

'One of the main aims of educating young people is to equip them with skills for the future and work experience is a very valuable part of this preparation. It adds a very practical element to careers education and to work-related learning. In the words of Albert Einstein “the only source of knowledge is experience”.

The world of work is changing fast and young people need to be flexible and entrepreneurial in their attitudes. This is not just about finding a future job or career pathway. Work experience involves pupils finding out how they can apply what they’ve learnt in school to the working environment and vice-versa. Transferable skills include team work, using initiative, problem-solving skills, working under pressure, accepting and understanding instructions and feedback, and using ICT effectively. It is useful for anyone, at any age, to develop these skills and to assess their own strengths and areas for improvement.

Good work experience is just as valuable if pupils find out what they do not want to do in their future career as when they find out what they do want to do. Other benefits of work experience are: to make contacts, to learn new skills, to work with people in different age groups, to understand the pros and cons of working, to understand how businesses work and quite importantly to have fun, without all the responsibility. A week or two-week placement will offer many advantages, but other work-related activities are also beneficial. Schools should offer work shadowing, work observation, work-based projects and mock interviews as part of a good Careers Education and Guidance Programme.'

Debbie Thompson, Deputy Head, Westfield School, Newcastle

Published in: May 2014

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