Work Experience

Good practice in organising work experience placements

It’s easy to forget that, below the headline announcements and big speeches, Government departments are usually just chugging away with administrating policy, managing change and commissioning and learning (hopefully) from research. A recent (March 2017) 148 page research report by the NatCen Social Research and SQW was published by the DfE entitled “Work experience and related activities in schools and colleges” whose aim was “to consider current provision and operational practice of work-related activities at schools and colleges in England.” Which isn’t really what it does, for it only really focuses on work experience provision and pays scant regard to other kinds of employe engagement.

Based on the results of over 700 survey responses and 278 interviews (all conducted in the 2016 Summer term) the report paints a picture of what methods schools and employers make use of and which they struggle with when planning, sourcing and organising work experience placements. (The report covers this process in both schools and Further Education Colleges but it’s the work with Pre 16 students that I will concentrate on here) It is full of interesting data regarding participation of students and barriers some perceive to taking up placements, how schools prepare students for placements, quality control of those placements and evaluate the impact on students post placement.

This all results in is a good practice guide that can help practitioners to offer effective work experience schemes


and a recommendation to the DfE

Despite widespread acceptance of the importance of work-related activities in preparing young people for the world of work, and some common agreement about what constituted good practice, it was noted that the absence of clear guidance from the Department for Education in relation to work-related learning pre-16, meant that it was not always prioritised (whether in the curriculum or in staffing). The absence of guidance was felt to be particularly impactful when governors/ senior leaders needed to be persuaded of the benefits of delivering a structured programme of work-related activities. Detailed guidance related to pre-16 provision, therefore, is to be welcomed

which, I would imagine, is a plea that would be welcomed by CEIAG practitioners in schools.

Throughout, the report is full of interesting titbits, some of which caught my eye were:

  • Funding constraints are restricting school work in this area

It was felt that, in order to support an expansion of work related activities at a time when school and college budgets were tight, additional (central) funding was required

  • Employers are keen for placements to be longer than one week
  • Work experience is still the most common form of employer engagement offered by schools at KS4


  • 66% of respondents send students out on placements in the Summer term and 86% organise block placements rather than separate days.
  • The most popular reason for timing of placements is to fit around programmes of learning 55% which suggests schools are not being flexible to the needs of employers or learners when planning such provision.
  • 24% report that “not finding enough placements” is the largest reason for not all students accessing placements while “lack of confidence” (89%) and “fear of the unknown” (81%) where the biggest challenges to students taking up placements which shows how important the personal support practitioners offer their students in the build up to placements is.
  • That some sectors of employment are clearly failing to find ways to offer enough placements to meet demand as schools report common difficulties (% of respondents reporting employment sectors where it was difficult to find placements)


  • That concerns around health and safety and insurance are still holding employers back from offering placements
  • That schools are working with a range of organisations to help source placements


(although note the low % working with Enterprise Advisers through the Careers & Enterprise Company is likely due to the Summer 2016 date of the survey when the organisation was much newer)

  • That far too few schools spend any time following up with employers post placements to provide feedback or assess how the placement went (% of schools who undertook follow activities with employers)


The report also looks at the rationale and reasoning for running a work experience scheme in the first place and it is cheering to see the range of impacts and employers that schools believe such provision can have on young people, which makes the practical barriers that do exist when organising KS4 placements all the more frustrating.




Being online means, occasionally, companies and providers of services will get in touch to promote their Careers Education related products or ask for advice.

Last academic year I gave some time, alongside other Career Leaders and the CDI, to help the team at Grofar develop their Careers management platform. The Managing Director, James, visited me at my old school a number of times to test out new features and get feedback on how these would work in the practical day to day life of a school. I saw this week that the team at Grofar have been shortlisted for a CDI Career Development Award in the “Best Practice in the Use of Technology in Career Development” category. This is a deserved accolade as I saw how many iterations of the software the team worked through to shape the features of the final product to be as responsive as Careers Leaders in schools need it to be.

Grofar is a complete careers program management product. It is a database and recording tool, a planning and mapping tool, a central hub for all of the desk based stuff a Careers Leader in a school or college would do.

It allows you to plan your academic year of career events and provision, add to it as things pop up throughout the year, see where the gaps in your provision for each year group or subject area lie so to improve on for next year and then have your plan ready to show senior leaders or Ofsted at the touch of a button.

It allows you to integrate student data from CSV files or SIMS, track interventions for each student and send out meeting reminders through student emails. Destinations of leavers can be tracked and reports generated. Alumni records can be kept to use as a resource in future.

It can also help with the organisation and paperwork trail needed to secure properly vetted work experience placements if the school runs such a scheme.

In short, it offers to replace those folders of excel workbooks neatly saved on your school or college shared drive and post it notes stuck all over your monitor and school planner with a joined up record keeping and planning platform.

This isn’t free though and comes with a cost that Grofar do not want to make easily findable on their Pricing page. (I only vaguely remember what James said they would be aiming for).

To my mind, it’s frankly amazing that there are still companies out there willing to commit time and funds to developing careers products for an education system that is running on financial empty. Combine that with the wide range of free resources that can be found with a bit of research, then each sale must feel like pushing a boulder over a mountain. If you’re at a school that does purchase an annual licence for computer software or regularly buys physical products such as magazines or books, do let me know in the comments below as it’s good to hear the reasons why this is helping your practice and students in your setting.

A number of suppliers offering Careers products to schools still exist, Cascaid probably being the most well known who offer a range of both physical and computer products. But U-Explore, Trotman & Prospects Educational Resources also offer a number of physical & computer products.

All of these firms and more will be offering their wares at the National Career Guidance Roadshows coming up through February & March 2017 for you to go along and compare their products. For how long, there remains a market with funding able to allocate to such products, remains to be seen.

(This blog is not a sales pitch, I’ve included the links to Grofar so you can see for yourself the capabilities and layout of their product. You know your school budgets and priorities so, as a practitioner, you can make your own mind up where to allocate your resources.)


Let’s be clear about work experience for under 18s

It’s at this point of the academic year that one of the biggest frustrations of the job is in full effect for me. Namely, the short shift some of our Year 10 students receive when approaching employers about work experience placements due to the insistence that the company doesn’t offer placements to under 18s due to “insurance reasons.”

There seems to be no rhyme or reason between those who accept students, those who decline and the type of workplace environment involved.  Local aircraft engineering companies such as Gulfstream and Monarch go out of their way to offer us fantastic opportunities where students will be properly supervised working around mechanics and heavy equipment while retailers such as JD Sports and PC World decline to engage. Some of those businesses will genuinely believe that there is a special circle of Hell reserved just for the form filling needed to let anyone under the age of 18 into your place of work and some will just use it as a quick excuse (“If we let one do it, then it opens the floodgates!” they say, seemingly oblivious that the world’s 7 billion people aren’t turning up every morning expecting a paycheck despite the fact they do employ at least some of them). For those schools who still commit to providing Key Stage 4 work experience this belief and casual excuse is the biggest threat to securing worthwhile placements for their students. It is part of wider issue covered in-depth recently by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills in their report “Not Just Making Tea” in which they state that “74% of employers claim experience is significant or critical when recruiting young people. But despite the high demand for experience, just 27% of employers offer young people the chance to gain work experience.”

As Careers folk, we must shout this louder.

There are no “special insurances” that are needed to offer work experience to under 18s.

Under health and safety law, work experience students are your employees. You treat them no differently to other young people you employ.

There is no onerous mountain of paperwork to be conquered.

Schools and colleges or others organising placements need to check the employer has risk management arrangements in place. Conversations between the placement organiser and the employer could simply be noted for reference.

In fact, the Government have paid special attention to make this all as clear and straight forward as possible so that work experience could realistically be one of the core components of the 16-19 Study Programmes.

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said

There is no need for lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach. Employers who are already managing the risks in their business effectively for employees are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place. There is no need to conduct their own risk assessments

And, always remember, that the aims of work experience are fully supported by leading Business groups who want schools to engage with these sort of schemes.

Here is the official HSE leaflet you could print and distribute to your students and parents and use yourself when approaching employers.

Of course, some businesses will have had a poor experience in the past with a student, or won’t feel there are suitable tasks for a young person and some simply won’t be sure they have the capacity to properly supervise the student and, when they explain why they don’t offer placements, I listen, I try to encourage them to reconsider, I leave my contact details and (hopefully, however small) at least a moment of consideration to the idea. But at least they explain their reasoning and it’s based on experience and reality. Not a false idea of a barrier that doesn’t even exist. However long the journey may be to persuade more employers that this is indeed the case, we can do some of the legwork to persuade, cajole and engage.

The work experience visit: Dance 2 “the gee up”

Goes a little something like this.

Me: “So, this looks great, what sort of stuff have they had you doing?”

Student: “Well, I pick up the stuff from here..”

Me: “Uhuh”

Student: “And I put then I put it over there.”

Me: “Right, right, sounds like physical stuff! I’m sure you’ve been going home tired every night!”

Student – just looks at me

Me: “So what sort of skills do you think you’ve been able to display on the placement then?”

Student: “Well, my ability to pick stuff up. And then put it down again.”

Me: “Been working in a team at all?”

Student: “No.”

Me: “Riiiiight, so you’ve shown a lot of perseverance to get the job done.”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “Has it helped you think about your future at all?”

Student: “Yep. Not to do a job like this.”

Me: “Okayeeee. But I hope you see, the fact that you’re sticking with it is really good. Still doing a good job, even though you don’t like it shows you’re a dedicated person.”

Student: “I tweeted some friends last night. Daniel has been working on a new design for a wing mirror on a F1 car.”

Me: “Sounds like he’s been thrown in the deep end.”

Student: “I told him about the 3 different types of scaffold I’ve been carrying.”

Me: “Well done for sticking with it. It really will impress College.”

Student: “What’s happening back at school?”

Me: “Not much, it’s very quiet with all you lot out.”

Student: “I miss it.”

The work experience visit: Dance 1 “the push & pull”

Goes a little something like this:

Employer: “We don’t normally do work experience but I know his mum so we made an exception.”

Me: “Well, we’re really grateful that you did, it’s hard to find quality placements. How’s he been?”

Employer: “Really good actually, we’ve been able to give him a lot more to do than we thought we would.”

Me: “So he’s shown an interest in the business, asked intelligent questions?”

Employer: “Yeah, it took him a while to come out of his shell but he’s cottoned on very quickly.”

Me: “So, it’s been a positive experience?”

Employer: “Yeah, he’s really got on with things.”

Me: “So you might think about running it next year as well?”

Employer: “Well, maybe…”

Me: “That would brilliant if you could. Like I said, we’re always on the lookout for quality placements.”

Employer: “Well, I’ve got to speak to HR…”

Me: “Of course, but we could help get the right students to you, bring them over for a chat, ask them to submit a letter of application…”

Employer: “And then there’s the health & safety…”

Me: “You’d be surprised how easy that is now, for the paperwork you just treat them like an employee really.”

Employer: “Our Director would have to have the final say.”

Me: “Of course, but we really do appreciate interesting placements like this though.”

Employer: “Well, like I said, we’ll see.”

Me: “You’ve got my number if you need to talk about it.”

Employer: “Sure.”

Me: “Look forward to hearing from you soon.”

Employer: “Sure.”

The build up to Work Experience

In almost a month’s time our corridors and classrooms will seem a little quieter as we send out our entire Year 10, almost 200 students, out into the world for two weeks work experience.

At this stage of the process it’s still a fluid, moving machine with some students still to organise placements, a lot of interviews to arrange and, I’m sure, a few last minute twists and turns to come.

To help prepare the students for the new and different world they are about to be submersed into for a fortnight we, alongside assemblies, essentially run three lessons for them.

  1. Employees rights & responsibilities

Tasks: The students are given a generic employee/employer contract and complete a question sheet about the contract. They are also presented with a number of scenarios about work problems and asked to make a judgement on the employee or the complaint and feedback to the class.

Aim of lesson: To encourage the students to contemplate the balance between their rights but also their responsibilities in the workplace and to be prepared for what is expected from their conduct.

  1. Health & Safety in the workplace

Tasks: The class watch a few “no win, no fee” adverts and discuss the issues around personal responsibility versus the right to work in a safe environment. In pairs they then complete a “5 steps to risk assessment” worksheet for the classroom and immediate area which will lead to some fairly mundane results. The class then watch

and go through exactly the same 5 step process to consider what has been down to limit the risks involved in such an event.

Finally the class look over and compare/contrast some actual risk assessments from placements from previous years.

Aim of lesson: To reinforce that, in some of the working environments the young people are about to enter, actions can have serious consequences and that risk is never eliminated, just reduced by sensible decisions.

  1. Last minute talk/Networking

Tasks: Teacher presents a bit of powerpoint with all of the last minute things students need to know; what to do if they are ill etc. Students are then given worksheets to help them define their current network of contacts who they could rely on for opportunities. Then, using or careersbox videos, they are shown a number of workers who achieved their job or career direction through such networks. Finally, using the example of the story of the twit-hiker, students are shown how large networks can have benefits.

Aim of lesson: After some practical stuff to get through, students are encouraged to consider how important networks can be and that success does not always come from a perfect track record of results but through building mutually beneficial relationships that aid career progression.

What I’m missing here is an employers take on this – a view from the receiving side of the fence about what they would like young people to be made aware of before they start their placements – and would appreciate any comments or input people have.