Remember your first summer job, and the experience gained?

With the summer jobs campaign receiving  a vast amount of coverage we discuss work experience in its entirety with David Allison. 

The Case for Work Experience

Esther McVey’s intervention last week on the subject of work experience and summer jobs is a welcome opportunity to raise this important subject – I was surprised to see so much interest in the media but grateful that it was given prominence, even if for a few hours.

The business case for work experience

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests exposure to the workplace increases young peoples’ opportunities in life and the evidence suggest a range of reasons why this might be.

Firstly, there is nothing like being in the workplace to begin to build the skills that employers will be looking for. Even a couple of days going into a working environment and appreciating the things that are valued are a useful start. From turning up on time or being appropriately dressed, to simply working in an environment that may be far less structure than school or college, all of these experiences will help young people when they make the more permanent move into work. In addition, it is often only really possible to develop the elusive ‘soft-skills’ that employers value so much in the work-place.

When work experience is aligned to a student’s career interests, then it serves another purpose too; by confirming (or challenging) their choice, it will help them to make decisions about the options that face them in terms of educational choices.

"So, from the young person’s perspective, it’s pretty clear. Work experience can help with employability skills, motivation in education, knowledge of the world of work, as well as career-decision making in its own right. If you want to earn 10% - 15% more in better roles, then get some work experience."


For employers, providing work experience can seem like a one-way process. What, after all, can a young person do for you in a short work placement? The answer may surprise you. In the short term, young people in the work place can add value by undertaking specific projects. We’ve found that whilst work shadowing may not always be engaging, give those on work experience a specific challenge with defined goals and it is amazing how quickly they help you achieve. This approach also helps you to educate them about the world of work. No longer is getting your homework in on time having written at least 4 pages the important thing. Getting the right outcome in the most effective way becomes the priority. It still amazes me that the education system appears to value length of submission, rather than clarity and brevity which is a real skill in any organisation.

So where are we now?

In recent years, work experience rates have dropped massively – by some estimates from 42% participation 20 years ago to less than 20% now. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that survey after survey reports employers saying that young people do not have relevant soft skills. You may question whether that has ever been the case, but it is fairly self-evident that if young people have never been exposed to the workplace, they are unlikely to have picked up those skills.

It is interesting to me, however, that this fact is increasingly recognised by young people. In a recent survey of our 100,000 most active candidates, 98% reported that they did not think they had the relevant skills and full time education had not done enough to prepare them.

To put all this in context, in the longer term, we are facing a significant skills crisis. With all the attention on Brexit and talk of low levels of unemployment the overall picture of young people out of work – particularly amongst the cohort of non-white under 25 year olds – is pretty stark. For many organisations, using work experience to reach out to this group is a smart move that underpin any organisation’s future workforce. Those organisations that are not able to engage with this demographic for their workforce of the future are in effect ‘choosing’ to drive wage inflation without any associated gains in productivity.

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What should we do?

To begin with, take a look at what you can do to get involved with work experience. It needn’t be as difficult or complex as is sometimes made out.

If you are an employer, make contact with your local schools or sign up to one of the national schemes operated by organisations such as Speakers4Schools, Semta or get in touch with us to see how we can help.

For schools and careers organisations, the careers agenda – through the Gatsby Benchmarks – now offer the hope of a stable framework that we can all work to. Whether you are a Head Teacher, Careers Adviser, 

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Governor or Enterprise Adviser, get to know this framework and the tools that are available. As ever, there is little new money to fund this initiative, but it appears to be based on an achievable and well thought-out approach.

For young people, if you want to get ahead, start now. There is no one solution. It will depend on the school or college you are at or the networks you have access to. Fundamentally, any time you put into finding that job and getting experience is going to be paid back with interest over time. It’ll also put some money in your pocket now to make the summer one to remember.

You can check out our work experience page on GetMyFirstJob here.