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Enjoy the benefit of experience

Firms large and small can boost their workforce with the aid of work experience, says Stuart Shepherd

With requirements for placements from schools and colleges on the increase and benefits to the employer that can include attracting new talent, reductions in recruitment costs and improvements in staff supervisory skills, there has never been a better time to consider offering work experience.

Provian Construction in the South-east of England would certainly agree. For some time the company has been liaising closely with local schools, arranging health and safety lectures, site visits and a practical on-site lesson in bricklaying.

In addition to a number of apprenticeships, Provian also offers spells of work experience to 14 to 16 year-olds.

“We have been working with organisations such as the -county council’s Kent Works scheme to encourage young people to get an insight into the industry,” says Roger Maycock, managing director.

“At our Medway Halls project in Chatham - where three blocks of student accommodation are being built for the University of Kent - this has made a very positive impression on one pupil, 15 year-old George Wade.

“So much so that having come to us one day a week during school term for the past six months, he now has approval to continue through into the next school year.”

Young apprentices

“We cannot be certain at this stage whether we or the wider industry will go on to gain the benefit,” Mr Maycock continues. “But we remain passionate about helping young people, in tandem with their schools and teachers, make the transition from the education system into employment.

“It is good for us as a company and good for our employees and we will be taking on three more young people on work experience when the next school year begins.”

George, who attends the site as part of a young apprenticeship scheme, spends another two days a week at a centre of vocational excellence where construction is on the curriculum.

“The college provided him with the appropriate health and safety instruction before he came to us as well as sorting out all the insurance,” says Cliff Reader, site manager.

“Because he is under working age and is here as a management observer, he is continually escorted by me or my assistants. That hasn’t seemed to cause any problems and recently, for example, he spent a day observing the activities of a banksman.

“He likes the design side of things,” Mr Reader continues, “but is equally interested with the practical issues that affect the running of a busy site. He is a good lad, learns well and really takes things on board. I am happy to say I have put his name forward for a Young Apprenticeship award.”

Many of the larger firms in the sector, such as Wates and Mace, are already well aware of the potential advantages and are now taking steps to get accreditation from the National Council for Work Experience for the programmes they run.

There is no reason for the industry’s SMEs to be missing out.

“A good starting point for any employer, no matter how small, would be to think about who trained them,” says Roy Cavanagh, training manager for the Seddon group.

“We all had the benefit of starting somewhere and should be looking to put something back into the industry. To get things going people can contact their local education business partnership or Connexions.”

Insurance issues

Work experience for 14 to 16 year-olds at Seddon tends to be organised over a one or two-week block during term time.

The firm’s insurance company is kept fully in the picture and the paperwork updated when necessary. Young people are required to supply their own reinforced footwear while Seddon provides all the other PPE wear.

“Obviously I don’t let them start swinging chainsaws about,” says Mr Cavanagh.

“But, under supervision, they can use a hammer and a few nails, lay some bricks or mix a bit of mortar.

“We know we are one of the few companies offering this and it is to our advantage,” he continues.

“I already have a note from one of our foremen about how well a lad who did work experience with us got on. We know from the past that there is a good chance he will go on to apply for our apprenticeship scheme and eventually become a good tradesman.”

For the smaller company looking to steadily grow its workforce along similar lines but cautious about what that might entail or how personnel will respond, the occasional work experience placement is a good means of testing the water.

“It is part of the ethos at Seddon that the workplace is also an environment for encouraging young people to learn,” says Mr Cavanagh. “But that can only happen because our staff put in the time and effort to make it successful.

“An SME employer wanting to create the same kind of atmosphere would do well taking work experience youngsters first before stepping up to run apprentice schemes.”

Find your nearest local education business partnership at

A guide to work experience

Heather Collier, director at the National Council for Work Experience, shares some ideas on getting the most out of work-experience programmes. When planning for the placement:

• Get buy-in from all the people your scheme will rely on. For this to work everybody needs to know what is expected of them.

• Establish the gaps in your company that a student might fill. Consider how long and how often they are with you, then build a project around this aimed at a young person with the right specific skills, competencies and availability.

• Consider saving money by advertising through your local careers advisory service, which will help match students to your need.

• Look to integrate work placement students like any other employee. Interview them, give them an induction, work space and access to what they need to get their job done.

• Set realistic goals and objectives and assign a supervisor or mentor who can offer practical support, identify training needs and give progress reviews.

She says: “As the placement finishes provide a two-way review. The student gets more from the experience, you can assess their contribution and discuss future work opportunities.”

Helpful links

National Council for Work Experience

NCWE produces Red Hot Talent, a practical guide for SMEs on how to recruit and manage work experience students

Trident from Edexcel also supports employers who offer work experience for 14 to 19 year-olds

The benefits of work experience to your firm

The focus of the support, guidance and resources available from the National Council for Work Experience is on placements for undergraduates.

With the graduate deficit for the sector in coming years predicted in the tens of thousands, director Heather Collier points out that work placements offer employers significant value as well as a distinct competitive edge.

She says, “With a well run placement the employer:

• Gains an intelligent, motivated and cost-effective labour resource with skills, knowledge and fresh ideas.

• Gets flexibility and availability at times of the year when other staff might be on holiday (summer and Easter holidays).

• Can undertake projects that would otherwise take up the valuable time of permanent staff.

• Has opportunity to develop the supervisory, monitoring and mentoring skills of full-time employees and give them the first taste of management.

• Can use the experience as a kind of cost-effective extended interview that benefits both sides and cuts down recruitment and training spend.

• Gives the student a feel for the full range of work and the culture of the organisation.

• Helps the student develop networks and consider their future employment possibilities with them.”