80% of employers think work experience is essential (City and Guilds) and 60% of employers say that they’re more likely to hire a young person with work experience over someone who has none. 

Work experience is no longer a requirement for young people aged 14-16, but there are benefits for you in helping you interact in a new setting, learn new skills, find out more about jobs and see what might suit you as a career.

Not if you are still in statutory education but if you are 16 to 18 and taking a level 3 course (A-levels, BTEC level 3, etc.) you are expected to undertake 10 days of ‘meaningful’ work experience as part of your wider post-16 study programme. Your sixth form or college should help you arrange this, but they have to do this for every student, so if you want something tailored to your particular needs you might have to start looking around for yourself.

There are some careers where it is important to have had a range of experience before applying to study at university; many universities do not make this mandatory but obviously, you will stand a better chance if you have had the opportunity to either undertake work experience or do some work shadowing. Some courses may not ask for specific experience in their sector but might ask for experience of working directly with the public; some understanding of the role and the sector; understanding of current issues in the industry. Examples include nursing, social work and health professions (physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy). For professional careers such as veterinary surgeon, there is an expectation that before applying to university you will have undertaken a broad range of experiences related to different types of work with animals such as environmental health, small animal work, large animal work.

The first things you need to work out are:

  • what do you want to do?
  • what are you willing to do?
  • what is it possible to do?

In some industries it’s simply not practical or maybe too dangerous to bring young people into the workplace; this could include working on building sites, heavy industry, offshore work, in some factories, on fishing vessels, in some healthcare settings or with professionals such as psychologists where patient confidentiality is vital.

If your school does not organise specific work experience you can consider ways in which you might get this for yourself, for example:

  • using contacts that you have with family and friends
  • getting a part-time job
  • volunteering with the charity
  • taking on programs, such as Duke of Edinburgh award, which have a volunteering element.

There are plenty of community groups and organisations who might offer volunteering experience, in some cases this might previously have been restricted to over 18’s but there may be opportunities for all ages. Younger people may have to do more observation and less hands-on.

By being in the workplace you will start to build a network of contacts that might eventually help you into an apprenticeship, a job or at least provide you with someone who can give you a reference. Think about how the work experience might relate to what you want to do long-term for example: if you want to become a nurse, cabin crew, police officer, etc. experience of dealing with people face-to-face is just as important as getting specific experience linked to those rules. The employer will want to see what you have learned from the experience rather than just a list of tasks that you have undertaken.

To ensure that your work experience is safe and beneficial for you, the Health and Safety Executive produce a useful guide for employers.pdf. You might find it useful before you start looking for opportunities to read it, so that you understand why this is important.

Keep a diary about the experiences that you’ve had. This will help you when you are trying to put these into job or university applications or your CV later. Smaller companies might offer a broader taste of work than large corporations, which might provide a more structured placement; time spent in both will complement a job candidate’s appeal. Employees say that when recruiting people there looking for ‘the right behaviours’ as work experience can be a way to observe how teams interact, how managers organise work and what is expected of members of staff.

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