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Work Experience

Student Guide

What is a work experience placement?

Work experience is an unpaid placement with an employer, where you carry out a range of tasks in much the same way as an employee, with the emphasis on learning from the experience. It is a great opportunity for you to explore the world of work and gain valuable skills and experience which will look great on your CV. 

Depending on the school or college that you attend, you may have the opportunity to undertake a placement, usually for 1 or 2 weeks in year 10, 11 or 12. 

HOW TO FIND WORK EXPERIENCE

Most students are expected to find their own work experience and it’s not a good idea to leave it to the last minute to start thinking about your placement. Remember you won’t be the only student looking for a work experience – Summer term of Year 10 is the most common time - start your search early!

Here’s some ideas how you can find work experience:

  • Does family member or a friend works somewhere interesting, ask them if their work would consider you for a work placement.
  • If you know of an organisation or company that interests you, do a web search for their contact details and get in touch with them. If the company is small and in the local area you could drop in and speak to them. Larger companies may require email or a letter and CV. You will need to ring up the company and ask who organises work experience to get their contact details. (Some larger companies put this information on their websites.) Don't forget to follow up your email with a call.  
  • Research job adverts in the local area to find employers and roles in your area. You could start by checking out the local youth friendly employers at our Virtual Careers Fair. 

If you’re really stuck with ideas on work placements and not sure about the kind of career you want, don’t worry, researching potential work experience placements is a great way to explore different career options. Have a look at different sectors on this website, think about what you like to do and where you feel your strengths lie, talk to your school careers lead and friends, family members about their careers and how they got there. You can also get in touch with Inspire Careers Advisers on [email protected] or 01375 413 735 for advice on career pathways.

Top tips for successful work experience

Arrange a pre-placement meeting with the employer before the placement starts

This will allow you to see the business premises and meet with your contact so it is not so daunting on the first day. It is also a great an opportunity to ask questions such as;

  • What time should you arrive and what time will you finish
  • Where to report to on the first day and to whom
  • What are break/lunch arrangements – is there somewhere to buy lunch or should you bring a packed lunch?
  • What is the dress code and do you need to provide any PPE (Personal protective equipment e.g. protective footwear)

Consider employer expectations

Before your placement, research your employer to gain a basic knowledge of the company in order to understand the possible expectations that the employer might have. You can also discuss the employer expectations at the pre-placement meeting.

Most employers will expect you to:

  • have a positive attitude
  • show interest
  • be polite and friendly
  • have ability to follow instructions/listening skills
  • be hard working
  • be punctual and reliable
  • be appropriately dressed. (appearance and hygiene)

Check your expectations

You might have a different expectation of what a placement will be like compared to reality. Don’t forget that;

  • age, lack of experience, lack of training, knowledge, skills and health and safety restrictions will limit some of the tasks that you can do.
  • time will be spent observing colleagues especially in environments that are high risk such as building/construction, garages and engineering.
  • routine tasks such as cleaning, tidying, filing etc. will be done.
  • a full working day will be undertaken in the majority of placements not ‘school hours’

Use the experience to help you make informed choices about your future

Work experience should be treated as a ‘learning experience’ and not just a week out of school. Keep a diary of your experiences while on placement and any feedback from your employer as you may be able to use this at college or job interviews. The employer may also be willing to provide you with a reference when you are applying for jobs, so make sure you give a good impression!

How about virtual work experience?

Also referred to as online, remote, or digital work experience, provides you the opportunity to gain knowledge of the world of work from home. For the majority of online work experience opportunities, the only thing you need is access to a laptop/computer and a stable internet connection. Most virtual work experiences range from half a day to one week, but some may last longer depending on the nature of the work experience and your age.

It's good to remember that not all virtual work experiences are the same. Some are open to everyone and provide a platform 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 you to go through an application process and offer regular online meetings with a supervisor, individual project work, networking sessions, training opportunities and video tutorials.