In the final blog in our series looking at the Gatsby Benchmarks for good careers guidance, we're focusing on benchmark six – experiences of workplaces, the importance of them and how to deliver on the benchmark effectively. When given the chance, every student can benefit from receiving first-hand experiences of the world of work, helping them to explore career opportunities and opening doors that will expand their networks.

Why is this important?

The Gatsby Foundation states that 80% of employers believe work experience is essential and two-thirds would be more likely to hire a young person with work experience over someone with none. By contrast, over the past year our research with over 1,000 young people showed that just 51% felt work experience would make them feel more confident for their future. So, although work experience is attractive to employers when hiring, students don’t always see the benefit.

Before starting a career, it's important for students to get work experience and understand what the working environment entails as it is completely new to them. It’s also beneficial for them to experience a range of industries so they can find one that inspires them to pursue a particular career and highlight the hard and soft skills needed for that job.

How does this work?

Create Access

Building local contacts and forming relationships with employers will create access for work experience. Companies often publish on their website any community work they, but in any case many will be happy to help where they can so it’s always worth reaching out to businesses of all sizes. Forming a relationship and keeping in regular contact is key so the employers become familiar with your school and comfortable offering work experience. Just like schools, companies are busy so clear communication is essential. Having connected employers and schools for over ten years, our founder Patrick Philpott, recommends having a clear ask delivered in good time.

"It's all about planning and being up-front about what's required. If you're looking for placements in July, start contacting target employers in January to set up placements. Make it as easy as possible for them, explain exactly what the employer will need to do to prepare, and emphasise the benefits. What can your young person bring to that business for a week?"

Prepare

To ensure that students make the most out of their work experience, they should prepare by outlining what they want to get out of the visit. A way to encourage this could be to host a group session or individual meetings with the students to draw up a plan which highlights their goals and how they can use this experience to help achieve them. This discussion can also cover preparations like what to wear, what to take with them and how they'll travel to the placement.

Supporting them with this will reinforce the importance of the visit and will encourage them to go into the company with a willing-to-learn mindset, taking full advantage of the opportunity.

Evaluate

Once the work experience is complete, a full debrief with the students should be scheduled to reflect on the work experience. This could be done using reflection models such as “What? So what? What now?” which helps them to think about what they learned, what it means to them, and what they'll do with that going forward. This reflection can then influence next steps in their career pathways and give both the school and employer feedback on the experience.

Having first-hand experiences and observations can help students to better understand the working world and how to access it. It's important for students to have an idea of what they want to do in the future, but until they gain some insight that future can be hard to visualise. That's where work placements make a huge impact.

We hope you've enjoyed our take on the key Gatsby Benchmarks and given you some valuable tips to shape your careers plan for the year ahead. We'd love to hear your thoughts and, to stay connected, follow us on Instagram (@Visionpath) and Twitter (@VisionpathUK) and register for our newsletter by entering your email address in the box below.