Skip to content

With many young people leaving education without employability skills, is work experience still worth it?

By Cath Dutton, Careers Hub Manager at CLEP

Cumbria, like many counties across the UK is facing acute skills shortages across many parts of the economy. Whether it’s construction, green skills, hospitality or care, there aren’t enough young people entering the workforce and those that do are lacking the key skills and abilities needed to do the job. Why?

It’s a complicated picture and one that covers everything from policy decisions to curriculum and individual skills, but work experience, now commonly referred to as experiences of the work place, has long been held as a way to introduce young people to the world of work, the many different jobs available and a way to teach them some of the key essential skills that employers need. Everything from timekeeping and organisation to how to dress appropriately and speak to customers and stakeholders.

But the availability of work experiences has been in decline despite young people valuing it as a way to build useful skills and experience that helps them make decisions about their future.

The annual Youth Voice Census, now in its sixth year, asks questions of young people aged 11 to 30 in education or training, those looking for work or those not engaging with these systems. In their most recent census published at the end of last year, 4,276 young people were asked questions specifically on work experience.

Seven out of ten agreed work experience helps them build useful skills, understand what it feels like to be at work, builds experience that helps them get a job and helps them make decisions and choices about their future.

Yet despite this strong agreement, less than a third had been offered work experience. With Black, African, Black British, and Caribbean respondents least likely to receive work experience opportunities. Of those that did 65 per cent had one opportunity, with only 35 per cent being offered multiple opportunities.

The results have led to calls from Youth Employment UK who carried out the census to ‘stop insisting young people aren’t work ready without rectifying the chronic under supply of work experience activities and supporting enrichment services’.

It’s true that the Covid pandemic had a dramatic effect on all aspects of young people’s lives, health, and education with the majority of work experience placements stopped dead in their tracks. In the last couple of years our young people have missed out on employer engagement opportunities such as industry talks, mock interviews, site visits and experiences of the workplace simply because of Covid and its fallout and they didn’t get to develop their employability skills.

The pandemic has been really challenging for young people, but we’ve noticed that by having to face change, many have become more adaptable and built their personal resilience - an underestimated skill I think, and one the future workforce will need.

Yet despite the clear evidence that ‘young people have missed and continue to miss key education and life experiences’ as the census report states, ‘the world has begun to expect pre-Covid behaviours’.

Then there’s the employers. With challenging economic times and staff shortages work experience opportunities fall down the list of priorities. There are misconceptions about the need for DBS checks, health and safety and time commitments and there seems to be an increasing scepticism in the value of work experiences and more specifically how employers benefit from it.

But in my experience I know the benefits are immeasurable. Not just for the young person/people involved but also the employers. By engaging with schools and colleges an employer is able to showcase their brand to hundreds of young people and build long-term positive relationships.

Work experience and any experience of the workplace typically falls under an employer’s social value offering but I firmly believe it should also sit under human resources. What better way to showcase your brand and ‘sell’ your job roles to the workforce of the future than getting a young person/s doing the job. It’s almost like a job interview for the future.

With a declining working age population and skills shortage in Cumbria we’re encouraging employers to build their brand with young people in schools. Experiences of the Workplace opportunities and career education is now embedded into our schools and colleges and begins much earlier than in previous generations right from age 11 upwards.

And it’s this early engagement that’s key to starting to challenge perceptions, to break down barriers and build essential workplace skills. By working directly with Cumbrian schools employers can help young people see the relevance of skills like problem solving and communication in their future careers. And perhaps more importantly can support and influence the skills and behaviours they want in a future workforce.

I believe experiences of the work place has been and continues to be worth it, none more so than as our county struggles to attract, retain and grow future talent.

Your login details have been used by another user or machine. Login details can only be used once at any one time so you have therefore automatically been logged out. Please contact your sites administrator if you believe this other user or machine has unauthorised access.