There seems to be greater focus on work experience in schools and colleges nowadays. FE colleges are under financial pressure and have to create courses that support local requirements, with these courses often containing a heavy work experience component. T Levels, currently undergoing a pilot scheme, also contain a heavy work experience requirement. Ofsted inspections we have been privy to always require hours data off Kloodle.
In many cases, work experience hours seem to contribute to the minimum hours requirement for a course, and therefore compliance is linked to funding. Recording these hours then becomes the goal. This strangles the learning and demeans the process. Work experience becomes a matter of getting students out of the door, regardless of the impact it has on their development.
Work experience offers a vital learning opportunity for young people and should be treated with the same reverence as an exam syllabus. This starts with the process of securing work experience. As the pressure is on to get students a onto work experience in order to secure funding, many learning centres have a team dedicated to sourcing placements on their students placements. This misses learning opportunity number 1. Courses should be designed to empower young people to find their own placement.
Life outside of the comfort of education will not afford young people the luxury of a team of people to provide them with a job. This is the sole domain of the individual in question. They have to make it happen themselves. The early part of the course should be geared around teaching students how to secure a placement, approaching it in the fashion one would approach getting a real job.
Whilst out on placement, participation should not earn the gold star. The workplace operates on strict laws of contribution. If you are unable to add value to an organisation, you are quickly disposed of. Students who turn up and do nothing (but still pass) have far reaching consequences for the system: –
- They learn that they are rewarded despite contributing little??an attitude that will hurt them later
- They taint their employers experience of the process, reducing the chances for that employer to offer a placement next year
Prior to placement, young people should be taught how to contribute to the workplace. They need to learn how to provide value to their employer. This could be by helping a colleague do their work quicker, using their initiative to find a job that needs doing or asking plenty of questions to demonstrate their willingness to learn. Students need to have the mindset of contribution instilled into them so they thrive later in life.
Measuring participation reinforces the just turn up attitude. Work experience should be judged by its impact, and not merely completing your stint. Students must reflect on their placement and evaluate the skills they have developed. They must contextualise the placement and think about how it will help shape their future. They must consider the contribution they made to the business they worked for-??I would go as far as getting them to calculate what it cost the business to host them for the week. Id maybe even look at them factoring in what if I was on a salary, how much would I cost the employer?
A great game would be to then try to evaluate how they helped earn that money back for the employer. Did they help build products a company could then sell? Did they help manage accounts that contributed to saving the business money? Did they make the business a profit during their stay?
Training students to think like this will develop commercial awareness and also demonstrate that, as an employee, you are your own little profit and loss centre. You cost the business money by being there. Your job is to be valuable enough to make the business want to pay you to STILL be there.
Work experience is an impactful activity with plenty of life lessons. If we treat it as a box to be ticked, we miss a huge opportunity to develop a young persons future prospects. Schools are under undoubted pressure from numerous external stakeholders which contribute to less-than-optimal solutions. My blog is obviously an idealised version of reality and I fully appreciate that there are many contextual issues to overcome which result in a culture of metric-gathering. I feel strongly, however, that work experience needs to be measured by impact, and not volume.