Work experience schemes. Not just for big business

I’m glad the UK government and big businesses have got the work experience issue sorted out.

(Very briefly: businesses can offer unemployed young people unpaid work experience, during which the youngsters continue to receive their unemployment benefits. After protests claiming that the scheme amounted to unpaid forced labour, and criticism of the government’s threat of sanctions for youngsters dropping out, several companies withdrew. The government has now announced it will not withdraw benefits for young people dropping out of the scheme, except in cases of gross misconduct).

I’ve seen big business+government employability schemes in action and they provide a huge boost for unemployed people’s self-esteem. It would be a shame if employers were frightened away from such programmes.

In my experience, young people are not employment-ready when they leave school or university. This isn’t the fault of the youngsters themselves, or of the education system. There’s just so much for them to learn nowadays.

Over the last 3 years I’ve provided work experience ranging in duration from 3 days to 4 months for young graduates, college and university students, 6th year secondary school students, and school leavers. Some of them were receiving grants, others were not. Some were local, i.e. from Dunbartonshire, others were from Italy and France.

Here are some of the things they learned from their placements:

  • marketing for small businesses
  • social media for business uses
  • how to use Macs and Mac programmes (Address Book, Mail)
  • advanced features of Word
  • how to use email marketing services like the wonderful Emma
  • the importance of language-learning
  • the importance of good writing style
  • networking and its role in business
  • how to write a decent CV.

These placements didn’t cost me anything in money terms, but as you can imagine from the above list I invested quite a lot of time and effort in them. In return, I got help with some of the day-to-day tasks that take up so much of my time as a small-business owner. And I also learned a few IT tricks myself.

If you’re interested in offering work experience placements, contact your local Chamber of Commerce or the education department at your local council. You can offer placements even if you’re a sole trader, and even if you work from home (the placement provider may need to carry out a health and safety assessment, and of course you may not like the idea of a stranger working in your home office/kitchen table).

It’s up to you. But offering placements can help you out, and is a way to give something back to your community and help young people get a start in their careers.

By Marian Dougan

2 responses

  1. I have a very mixed opinion of work experience. As a journalist, I did about 12 weeks’ unpaid work before I got my first paid job. Although all the placements were ultimately worthwhile, I was left considerably out of pocket and many of the other journalists resented me being there and made life quite difficult. It was character-building as well as skills-building, but now that I have my own business I wouldn’t offer work experience unless I could at least cover their expenses and teach them something worthwhile! (Which you clearly have!)

    1. Yes, work experience does have its pros and its cons. I think it’s appropriate for students, school-leavers and recent graduates – people who need something to put on their CV and some basic experience of the workplace. It should always include training, and should NOT be used as an unpaid probation period – that’s just exploitation.
      Like the new photo, BTW!

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