The value of work experience to students and employers

Cheshire College South & West has built up strong working relationships with local employers, to secure work placements and develop links with the local community. Altimex, an electronics, fibre optics and LED lighting company has established a strong link with the college. In a guest blog, Davinder Lotay, Managing Director of Altimex, outlines the mutual benefits of industry placements, for learners and employers.

I have often wondered why I am so engaged in supporting students with work experience initiatives and other employers are not. I believe it is mainly due to the fact that some employers do not realise the importance and value they bring to both the learners and the company.

I have been building relationships with schools, colleges and universities for a long time by supporting their work experience campaigns. These relationships take time; over the years, work experience teams understand the providers better and can offer placements to individuals who are best matched to the employer. This has numerous advantages to both the employer and the learner.

The employer has the confidence in knowing that:

  • the student is interested in the type of work placement being offered
  • they can tailor the placement offering accordingly with a framework that supports the students’ needs
  • this provides the opportunity to engage with the student better as you know their interests.

Students have the comfort of knowing that:

  • they will learn from an employer who is best matched to their experience needs
  • the framework is in place to support them
  • they can make more informed choices about their next steps.

It has always been felt that we as employers need to give something back to the student community and offering work placements is the best way to do so. It also helps the future economy by preparing students for the world of work and helps to narrow the skills gap, especially in digital and STEM subjects.

My process is to encourage the student to submit their CV with a covering letter. For some students this is the first time they have had to write these documents, so this is where I believe the true essence of work experience begins. Once I receive them, just like standard applications for a job, I interview the student and this forms part of their work experience. I provide immediate feedback after the interview on what they did well and how they can improve.

Having a young student within the business provides us with several benefits:

  • The ability to test out our coaching and mentoring skills. This enables staff to practice their supervisory skills which in turn boosts their morale.
  • They bring creativity and innovation to the business. When looking at a challenge, they have an “out of the box” thinking on the subject matter as they have no preconceived ideas. They are able to expand themselves without constraints and this adds diversity.
  • An extra pair of hands in the business.
  • It does not cost us anything. We do, however, give them valuable experience in return and at the end of the period they receive a thank you gift.
  • It can form part of the business recruitment strategy. It allows me as the employer to assess the student with a view to offering them a permanent role in the future.

There is a wide variety of work experience and placement projects I can offer:

  • Schools: 1-week work experience
  • Colleges: 2-week project-based work experience
  • T Levels: 45-day work experience
  • Universities: 4-12 week placement including a project

I have found that the longer a student is exposed to the business and working environment, the more enriched learning they receive. Therefore, in my opinion, the new T Levels are a great option for both learners and employers.

Employers new to work experience need to have a structure in place to support the student. Schools and colleges are well versed in organising health and safety and other consent forms, but business insurance needs to be reviewed to ensure you are able to have a student in your workplace. Typically I have found that there is no added cost if at all only a few pounds. Having an induction like any other new starter is a must. This helps the student feel that they are part of the organisation and also provides them with an insight to what to expect with a real job. It also enables the organisation to meet the legal requirements for health and safety.

Although education providers offer students guidance on what to write after each day of work experience, I always insist that they have a ‘day book’ with them so they can take notes as they go. At the end of the placement, I encourage students to provide a short presentation of their time with us which allows them to gain presentation and communication skills within a working environment.

Work experience placements are a great way for employers to support the younger generations and I feel that participating in these programmes is the best way for students to enhance their skill sets.

To find out more about the importance of engaging employers in education, read our guest blog by Martine Mayo, Work Placement Team Leader at Cheshire College South & West.

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