If you are given the opportunity to take on a work experience student for a week or two – TAKE IT!
If you’ve been scared off by thoughts of babysitting a dilatory teenager, or read that the majority of today’s kids leave school illiterate, innumerate and unmotivated, then pay attention. They’re not all like that. Take Yasmin for example. During the third week of July this year our offices were visited by this bright year 11 student on the second of her two work experience weeks. Yasmin attends a local grammar school and had just completed her GCSEs.
Yasmin thought that we might be the type of business she would be interested in. Not really knowing what direction she wants to take after sixth form this seemed like as good an idea as any.
The idea of work experience is to introduce the student to an environment where they can apply some of the skills acquired during their education and gain new skills while learning about the world of work – this is something every student is expected to do. The employer therefore has to prepare a proper experience for the student and not simply expect them to take orders for coffee and stand by the photocopier.
We set about planning a timetable for Yasmin which included many aspects of our business. She would be a junior research assistant – entry level for the market research industry. Not knowing her strengths we decided that a little time spent with each team member will give Yasmin sufficient insight, and help her decide if any aspect of market research interests her. We weren’t sure what to expect, but from the moment she arrived in our offices we were presented with a smart, smiling, confident young lady.
Yasmin listened attentively as we each explained our roles in the business, and she then applied herself to a project involving desk research for a new business initiative. She worked hard, asked questions, and smiled constantly; over the few days she became part of the research team. On the fourth day she presented her desk research to us; it was carefully put together on Powerpoint with all the relevant headings and bulletpoints. Her presentation was full of information we hadn’t known about the subject, and has become a useful tool for our new business drive. We all agreed that Yasmin presented with confidence and clarity.
Yasmin said of the experience that she came into our company knowing nothing about the technicalities of running a small business, and by the week’s end she understood “the processes from start to finish and everything inbetween”. She liked the ability to think independently, manage her own time and work out where to find the information needed for her desk research. She decided that she enjoys investigating and prefers the reliability of quantitative research over the more insightful qualitative research. She knows Powerpoint as well, if not better, than any of us, and had exposure to Sage accounting system in her previous work experience role.
Our take on the experience was very positive and the symbiosis in what she learned she gave back to us. Had we not prepared for Yasmin’s arrival the outcome might have been different, which would have wasted this important opportunity for both parties. So this is our advice to any organisation considering taking on a work experience or intern:
- Devise a work plan or timetable
- Set time aside on a daily basis to work with the student, to guide them and find out their skills and interests
- Enable them to do work that they can take ownership of
We know that there are young students who are ready to be an asset in the workplace and will be ready to repeat the process next year.