Work experience is vital. Not just to young people who can experience the workplace environment, figure out their career paths and learn a range of transferable skills (highlighted in the Department for Education’s Employers Perspective Survey 2016), but also to employers and institutions by helping them to understand the young people of today, look at their skill strengths and gaps along with helping them with their recruitment both now and in the future. This visionary approach is one that supporters of quality work experience from all backgrounds and sectors to ensure that young people can be successful in life-after all we are the future!
Unfortunately, many inequalities still exist-especially based on gender, ethnicity, geography and social class background. This is backed up by research by Dr Julie Moote that showed only 44.8% of young people had participated in work experience by Y11-a figure that we can all work towards to hopefully improve. Having been part of the National Youth Select Committee that investigated this very issue using parliamentary processes, several Governmental strengths, but more alarmingly considerate failings were brought to light. The Gatsby Benchmarks aim to set out a framework in which schools and colleges can deliver good careers guidance:
- A stable careers programme
2. Learning from career and labour market information
3. Addressing the needs of each pupil
4. Linking curriculum learning to careers
5. Encounters with employers and employees
6. Experiences of workplaces
7. Encounters with further and higher education
8. Personal guidance
These guidelines are widely accepted and endorsed across the education, careers and business sectors and this should be seen as a significant move to ensuring the personal and social development of young people as they move into the jobs market. Despite work experience and equivalent, committee findings discovered that the targets set by the Department for Education’s Careers Strategy such as the promise for each school to have a named careers leader in place by September 2018 are flawed. This is because the pressure is placed on schools who are undisputedly facing significant cash shortages. Whilst the role of schools is essential to ensuring quality work experience is secured and delivered safely, merely naming a careers leader-without sufficient support and funding in amidst increasing pressure to deliver impressive exam results is a bodged plan at the least. Careers development, including help to find work experience should no longer be seen as an optional extra but instead an essential part of one’s wider education experience: the Government should ensure that careers leaders and schools are funded properly to deliver this and can co-operate with one another to ensure that young people are prepared to enter the workplace and contribute to society.
In addition, the Government fails to collect data on the number of schools that offer work experience and take part in employment schemes-a move that should surely be essential in monitoring the extent of effect these have on young people. Also, its failure to mention work experience within its Industrial Strategy (published in 2017) shows an inherent lack of belief that it does have a role to play in supporting employment, tackling skills shortages and helping economic growth now and in the future. These findings are made clear cute in the committee’s report and it is essential they are resolved to ensure young people are supported by the Government on this issue.
Another thing that both young people, schools and brokers alike is the changing role and importance of work experience. A clear message from across the board was that the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach of two weeks in the Spring or Summer term (a time that schools tend to say best suits them). Other credible alternatives such as volunteering, shadowing, part-time work, and internships were all put forward by representatives from varying sectors as being a viable option to achieve benchmark five and six. This is a mentality change that will take time yet with the support of varying business, education and voluntary organisations, who can themselves offer a range of formats of work experience opportunities that still ensure a true reflection of the work environment, work experience can no longer be viewed as a set period of time at a set part of the school year by employers and young people alike. Instead, work experience will become an effective out-of-classroom practice, in which the needs of the individual are put over the priorities, pressures of their school and one that, using a pragmatic approach can ensure benefits both the young person and the organisation they are with.
Having the opportunity to investigate this issue, challenging professionals, experts and senior civil servants directly, allowed problems surrounding this issue to be brought to life. As a young person, to be in a position on that committee table in which many high-profile politicians have sat and one on which many powerful and influential figures have sat to give evidence was both impressive and slightly overwhelming. Knowing that the concerns of young people both in my constituency in Barnsley and across the country were being put forward, policies critiqued on their behalf and hopefully positive improvements made is one that I will never forget and relish being a part of. Throughout the country, plenty of work is being done by young people and schools alike to ensure better quality placements are secured and delivered. For example, locally, we have been working with the Employment and Skills Service of the local authority to develop a ‘Work Experience Charter’ which states what to expect from all stages of work experience and have together created an ‘Employer’s Promise’ that sets out by consulting with players in the local economy about how employers aim to do to help them achieve the skills that employers value and are clearly set out in this. Also, we are looking at ways to develop relationships between schools and businesses and as a result increasing levels of employer contact across the borough. Co-operation between young people, schools and employers is key to ensuring that the best work experience opportunities are created and taken by young people and when problems like skills shortages, recruitment levels and lack of ambition are tackled-only then can we all say that the role of work experience is truly vital for everyone
The Youth Select Committee Report 2018 is released in mid-November and I hope you all get a chance to read it and use whatever capacity you have to act upon and push for the implementation of the relevant recommendations made.
Member of Youth Parliament for Barnsley