Work experience should take place later and shouldn’t simply be delivered as a week long, one-off block, according to a new report. The recommendations come out of research commissioned by the careers platform Workfinder, and carried out by the think tank LKMCo.

In the report, More than a job’s worth: Making work experience fit for purpose, which was based on case studies, interviews, roundtables and literature reviews, the researchers suggest that young people over the age of 16 are more likely to develop the skills valued by employers as a result of participating in work experience, compared to younger pupils. The report points to the tendency of independent and grammar schools’ to deliver work experience with pupils aged 16 and upward, while many state schools continue to provide work experience for pupils aged 15 and 16. In 2018, the government’s statutory guidance for careers guidance and education called on schools to ‘ensure that by the age of 16, every pupil has at least one experience of a workplace, and one further such experience by the age of 18’, however changes in practice in response to this guidance may not yet show in the data drawn on by the report.

The researchers also argue that work experience organised as single week or fortnight in the summer term may not be as effective as spreading work experience out throughout the academic year. They reference studies which suggest that timing work experience shortly before the summer holiday diminishes opportunities for pupils to reflect on their experiences and link them with learning in school on their return. In contrast, conducting work experience earlier in the academic year allows for repeated interactions with employers, potentially increasing its effectiveness. They quote a study which found that young people who had taken part in four or more work-related activities, including work experience, were five times less likely to become NEET (not in employment, education or training) than those who had taken part in none.  The report suggests schools could increase opportunities by varying their work experience offer to include things like school-based placements, and extended placements which might take place on one afternoon a week across a term. The report notes that some of these approaches may present timetabling challenges for schools.

The report’s authors raise concerns about the effect that young people’s socioeconomic status (SES) has on their access to work experience. They cite a study which indicated that young people with a lower SES were less likely to have access to work experience in ‘high status’ workplaces (e.g. those requiring higher academic credentials) and less able to make use of family ‘contacts’ to secure work placements. Lower SES pupils were also less confident in their choice of work experience and more likely to be influenced by school staff. The researchers also suggest that opportunities to undertake work experience are more limited for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), especially in schools, and attribute this to a potential lack of expectation on the part of educators and employers, and an unwillingness to make adjustments that might enable pupils with SEND to participate. The report describes this as ‘problematic’, noting that young people with additional needs can often ‘disproportionately benefit’ when given the opportunity to participate in ‘careers encounters such as work experience’.

Other recommendations made the report include that schools should do more to help pupils prepare for and debrief after work experience, and that government could ensure a wider range of sectors provide work experience by making sure organisations applying for government contracts offer work experience placements. This latest report follows on from another LKMCo report, Making careers education age appropriate, which was published last month. Both reports can be viewed at: www.lkmco.org/reports/

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