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The Real Value Of Work Experience

2nd Feb 2021

Work experience is more important than ever before. A recent survey showed two thirds of employers look for applicants with relevant work experience because it helps them prepare for work and develop general business awareness. Importantly, one third of employers felt that applicants did not have a satisfactory level of knowledge about their chosen career or job.

Work experience is likely to look very different to previous years due to the pandemic. However, opportunities are still out there and are arguably more accessible and exciting this year. Whether you are looking for a way to sample a career idea as a student, someone looking to change career, or simply to discover what it is really like to work in a specific industry; work experience could offer all this and more.

What is work experience, job tasting and shadowing?

Work experience tends to be on-site with an employer for an agreed amount of time. This could be over an extended period or for a one/two-week block.

Virtual work experience opportunities are growing and offering a much-needed alternative as a result of the pandemic. National and local companies are signing up across the UK. Young People can take part from home or school/college through virtual platforms. This is allowing students access to national and industry-leading organisations that they may not otherwise have considered reachable. They will be able to learn about the business and take part in meaningful projects over the course of 3 or more days.

Job tasting and shadowing are often shorter or one-off occurrences. An opportunity for both young people and adults to visit an employer, discover more about day-to-day activities and observe technical skills in action. This can be better suited for employers who are keen to help but cannot commit to longer-term arrangements, and especially insightful if you're an adult who is looking to change career direction.

Consider volunteering, insight days, inspirational talks and webinars as other ways of seeing into the world of work. Many employers are happy with you contacting them directly to request a one-day insight, whether you're fitting this around your education schedule or current employment position.

What are the benefits of taking part in work experience?

There is much to gain from experiencing work and making connections with employers. Below are just 6 reasons to take part in work experience.

  1. Learn about your chosen career – ‘try before you buy’ – see if the work interests you as much in reality before you embark on potentially years of training.
  2. Many employers use placements as part of their recruitment process. If you do well, the organisation is more likely to employ you over an unfamiliar applicant.
  3. Gain transferrable employability skills. Discover how to deal with customers, work in a team and prove that you can turn up and make a valuable contribution. These are all key skills that you can then evidence on a CV or through a work experience reference.
  4. Build confidence and self-esteem. During work experience you may discover more about yourself as an individual. Having the chance to realise your own skills and abilities can be incredibly uplifting. 
  5. Link theory learned in education to industry. Use the employer expertise to develop your research as part of your course or practice skills learned in the classroom.
  6. Network, network, network! Keep note of any contacts and industry links so you can start to build a network of people that may be able to help you in the future.

We, at Ansbury, have witnessed first-hand all the above benefits. Even if you only ever do work experience with someone you know (like my dad, as I did), there is unlikely to be a negative outcome. Knowing what I know now as a Careers Adviser and Work Experience Co-ordinator, I most definitely did not make the most of my work experience programme in year 10. Lacking in direction and confidence I opted for familiarity, literally, by working with my Dad who was in Maintenance at a residential home. I look back on it fondly because of the quality time we got together. However, it taught me how to speak professionally with adults and I witnessed a real workplace. From my work experience, I was invited to stay on part-time as a Kitchen Assistant and this saw me through my entire A Level studies. I have worked with young people who are too unwell to commit to full-time learning but through work experience or volunteering have been able to find an alternative route. The possibilities are endless.

Where can you find out more?

If you are still in education, speak to your school/college/university to see what systems are already in place for work experience. The Work Experience Co-ordinator may well have access to a database of employers.

The Careers Enterprise Company work nationally to help improve employer encounters for young people

See Prospects for more about graduate level opportunities 

Speakers for Schools are one of the organisations working with schools and colleges to provide virtual opportunities 

To explore local volunteering opportunities yourself, for all ages, check out Do It

Use social media to connect with employers. Try word of mouth, talk to family and friends who may be able to put you in touch with companies. LinkedIn in a great social media platform to connect with employers. You can even message them to state your interest in their company and ask if they would have any time to meet up to talk more about the industry and give you an insight into their workplace if you want to sample a specific role – this type of approach is sometimes called an 'informal interview' and has led to people being offered jobs as a result!

You can research a wide range of job profiles and potential companies on National Careers Service

If you're age 16 – 24 and live across Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, or the wider Dorset area, our Inspiring Futures project can support you to find work experience and volunteering opportunities – offering a mixture of remote and in-person placements. This is open to all, regardless whether you are in education still, you're working, or taking a break.

For support in your search for valuable and relevant work experience or volunteering, we can support you by contacting:

or text "work experience + your name" to 07884 438908.

Listen Here  to our Ask The Adviser podcast episode about 'The Real Value of Work Experience', where we delve deeper into the content surrounding this blog post.