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Make Work Experience Work

Having a student in the office doing work experience is an investment in time, but can be very valuable for a company. If you take it seriously and do it well you’ll raise the company’s profile in schools and the local community. Despite stories abounding of teenage horrors who shrug apathetically, mouthing “wha’ever” while failing to take their eyes off their smart phone, we have always been sent really delightful, appreciative and hardworking students who have got stuck in and enjoyed their time with us. The process also provides an opportunity for employers to gain an insight and understanding of the changes in the education system and is an excellent way to develop recruitment channels. Last week Lauren joined us and while we all contributed to Lauren’s week, our trainee Kirsty co-ordinated her experience and looked after her. I have to say and I have told Kirsty) that she did an excellent job.

Here’s Kirsty’s guidance for employers who want to get the work experience right.

“Planning a student’s work experience is the key."

The schools and colleges tell the students about dress code and times. They usually ask us to schedule a call with the student beforehand so we can give a bit in more detail in the way of start time on day one, travel arrangements, directions, etc. During this call set the scene and tell the student that she is expected to do whatever we’re doing. That way her expectations are realistic. We also say that because our weeks vary so much we can’t say for sure what we’ll be doing. Where we have client meetings which may be appropriate for them to join we’ll ask the client if they may do so. Generally this is possible.

When a student comes into the workplace we want her to feel like part of the team and feel like it has been a worthwhile experience. Mondays are always busy so they’re asked to come in at 10am and we start with an induction as we would any other member of staff. It is important to explain company standards such as dress code, conduct and timekeeping preparing a student for expectations of them in working life. Show the student around the office covering fire exits and facilities such as toilets and kitchen/restaurant. We also set up a temporary email address for Lauren and pointed out where to find paper, pens, books etc. she may need for the job. She met the team and sat between Kate and I. I was the ‘buddy’ assigned to her that she could refer to me for help and with questions.

Before getting started we asked what she wanted to get out of her time in the work place. It’s always a good idea to ask this and if there is something particular to include it in the work plan if possible. The student should be able to experience the reality of the workplace and get involved with daily tasks that are happening. Shadowing an individual employee or observing with a group of employees has its uses but is a passive activity. We like to get our students doing things. We had previously looked at our key tasks for that week and worked out how Lauren could contribute to them. We ensured she worked on a variety of jobs, partly to give her exposure to different work, partly to alleviate the boredom of repetition.

As well as working with me, Lauren spent time with Chris, Marta and Kate. Exposure to how different employees approach situations can be helpful as just because they may do it differently does not mean that it is wrong. Employers could also set projects for a work experience student to complete in their time at the workplace. However, it is important to remember these must be relevant and have some value to the company and the student. They shouldn’t be something put together just to keep the student busy. Nor should the student be relegated to doing the jobs no-one else wants to do, such as tidying the stationary cupboard or doing the shredding.

Having the extra pair of hands around can be really useful. Last week Lauren helped us update our entries in a number of online directories. It can be a slow and sometimes frustrating job, but she sorted out a number of problems which pleased us both.

We only ever take work experience students for a week at a time. Looking after them properly is important, and as it takes quite an investment of time by us we have to limit it. We asked Lauren to present to us at the end of the week and asked her for feedback about what we can do better. In fact she told us that she thought the whole experience had been brilliant and wants to come back. It’s great to hear such enthusiasm and it was great to know she’d learned a lot and enjoyed it. We’re told her parents are thrilled with her work experience week too. Job done!”

Well done to both Kirsty and Lauren.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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