PRACTICE GUIDE: Work experience tips for employers

You may not have work for a student to do - but don’t panic. With our top tips you’ve got it covered!
You may not have work for a student to do – but don’t panic. With our top tips you’ve got it covered!

Many people we talk to are worried about taking a work experience student because they don’t know what to do with them.

“I can’t take a work experience student because I don’t have any work for them to do”

The growth of technology and work specialisation has made it hard for young people to do “real work”.

But fear not.

Work experience isn’t really about doing work. It’s about bringing together two worlds that don’t understand each other.

Employers want young people to be work-ready. That means understanding office etiquette and expectations.

So use your week with your student to help them find out

  • what work is like
  • how offices operate
  • what jobs exist, and
  • how people behave.

Focus on that and you’ll be giving them a great head-start.

Here are our eight tips for making your work experience placement valuable for your student and painless for you.

1. Help your student be observant

When they first arrive ask them to point out three things they notice and guess what that has to do with the work. See how close they are. Then point out three things you think are most significant. And explain why.

2. Explain your office etiquette

You might find your student keeps their coat on or won’t make eye contact. They might be feeling shy and uncomfortable. Explain how people are expected to behave at your work. Give them specific feedback on their body language. Encourage them to smile and look interested. Put them at ease and help them practise behaving like someone who works here.

3. Get them talking to people

Get them to practice with you and then ask them to introduce themselves to three new people during the day. Even better if you can come up with a task that means they have to talk to people in your team – it could be as simple as making tea for everyone. Every interaction will build their confidence.

4. Get them work shadowing, with a purpose

The easiest way to show a young person what you do is to let them spend a day with you, especially if you have a busy day of activities and meetings. If they come to a big meeting they might zone out a bit – so give them specific tasks to do and ask for their feedback afterwards.

  • Tell them to bring a pen and paper and make notes.  
  • Get them to focus on relationships and behaviour and see what they can pick up.
  • Give them three things to observe, for example:
  1. What are people wearing to the meeting and how does that reflect their roles?
  2. Who’s the most important person in the meeting – how do they know? What makes them powerful?
  3. How do people behave in the meeting? How did they treat each other? What can they tell about the culture and values of the company?

This could kick-start their journey of discovery. It might give you an interesting perspective too!

5. Share responsibility with colleagues

Ask colleagues to help out so you can offer as wide a variety of work shadowing options possible over the week. Ask three volunteers to help you look after your student and plan which days are best for each of them. Ask your student to feedback what they learnt from their day.

6. Adjust their working hours.

Let them come in at 10am and leave at 4.30pm.  The typical school day is shorter than a working day and usually finishes around 3.15pm, so to avoid them running out of steam let them leave early.  If they also avoid the commuter crush by starting a bit late then you will be able to clear some emails before you start them off for the day.

7. Keep them busy with a project

Create a small project for them to work on that combines independent work, preparing presentation material and presenting it to you for constructive feedback.  It can be as generic as you like but use the following structure: research; produce; present; feedback. This will help them progress with a feeling of development and independent thinking, and they should be kept busy for longer!

The young people we work with are incredibly social media savvy. So ask your young student to find and research your 3 closest competitors, explaining what they think their websites or instagram pages do better (or not), compared to yours.  

Seeing what they come up with will help you explain the key elements of your company and might just create some moments of revelation for you. To take it further you could ask them to come up with ideas for a social media campaign that they think will improve your following and grow your audience.   

8. Trust them with the office credit card

If it’s going well, can you give your student some responsibility? Send them out on an errand to buy something you need or to do the lunch run.

What’s your experience? Do you have ideas about managing work experience students? We’d love to hear from you!

Please add your ideas and comments below.

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