Work experience schemes. Not just for big business

I’m glad the UK government and big businesses have got the work experience issue sorted out.

(Very briefly: businesses can offer unemployed young people unpaid work experience, during which the youngsters continue to receive their unemployment benefits. After protests claiming that the scheme amounted to unpaid forced labour, and criticism of the government’s threat of sanctions for youngsters dropping out, several companies withdrew. The government has now announced it will not withdraw benefits for young people dropping out of the scheme, except in cases of gross misconduct).

I’ve seen big business+government employability schemes in action and they provide a huge boost for unemployed people’s self-esteem. It would be a shame if employers were frightened away from such programmes.

In my experience, young people are not employment-ready when they leave school or university. This isn’t the fault of the youngsters themselves, or of the education system. There’s just so much for them to learn nowadays.

Over the last 3 years I’ve provided work experience ranging in duration from 3 days to 4 months for young graduates, college and university students, 6th year secondary school students, and school leavers. Some of them were receiving grants, others were not. Some were local, i.e. from Dunbartonshire, others were from Italy and France.

Here are some of the things they learned from their placements:

  • marketing for small businesses
  • social media for business uses
  • how to use Macs and Mac programmes (Address Book, Mail)
  • advanced features of Word
  • how to use email marketing services like the wonderful Emma
  • the importance of language-learning
  • the importance of good writing style
  • networking and its role in business
  • how to write a decent CV.

These placements didn’t cost me anything in money terms, but as you can imagine from the above list I invested quite a lot of time and effort in them. In return, I got help with some of the day-to-day tasks that take up so much of my time as a small-business owner. And I also learned a few IT tricks myself.

If you’re interested in offering work experience placements, contact your local Chamber of Commerce or the education department at your local council. You can offer placements even if you’re a sole trader, and even if you work from home (the placement provider may need to carry out a health and safety assessment, and of course you may not like the idea of a stranger working in your home office/kitchen table).

It’s up to you. But offering placements can help you out, and is a way to give something back to your community and help young people get a start in their careers.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. I have a very mixed opinion of work experience. As a journalist, I did about 12 weeks’ unpaid work before I got my first paid job. Although all the placements were ultimately worthwhile, I was left considerably out of pocket and many of the other journalists resented me being there and made life quite difficult. It was character-building as well as skills-building, but now that I have my own business I wouldn’t offer work experience unless I could at least cover their expenses and teach them something worthwhile! (Which you clearly have!)

    1. Yes, work experience does have its pros and its cons. I think it’s appropriate for students, school-leavers and recent graduates – people who need something to put on their CV and some basic experience of the workplace. It should always include training, and should NOT be used as an unpaid probation period – that’s just exploitation.
      Like the new photo, BTW!

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