A work experience placement is your chance to learn what it’s really like to work 9-5 in a particular job or industry, so you can see if it’s right for you.
Depending on your school programme, you might be thinking about planning your work experience sometime soon. Perhaps you are looking forward to it, maybe you’re nervous, or perhaps you’re thinking ’what’s the point?!’
Either way, it’s important to start thinking about how you can make the most of your work experience. Up until now you’ve probably learnt about different jobs and careers by watching TV, talking to other people and looking online. Unless you’ve had a part-time job before, this is likely to be your first proper taste of the real world of work.
Most schools give you some choice about where you go for your work experience, so it’s important to think very carefully about what you want to get out of your time. It might be tempting to choose somewhere you think will be fun, but unless you are genuinely interested in that area of work then you could end up feeling like you’ve wasted an opportunity. Some students think that they know what they want to do, then they try it out and realise it’s not what they thought it would be like. It’s best to find out that you don’t like something early in your life, instead of finding out after training for years and years!
Getting work experience
Some schools have lists of employers and they will try and match you to a suitable placement, or if your school is happy for you to do so, you can start investigating different employers and asking them whether they would consider taking you on. Before you do this, do check in with your school work experience co-ordinator to find out what you need to do. They might prefer to contact the employer themselves, or they might give you a checklist to take with you. Try to find out as much as possible about each employer before you approach them. Then you can show that you are genuinely interested in the work that they do, and you can use this information to try and convince the boss to offer you a placement!
Read our tips on finding a work experience placement
Things that might get in the way
Often your options for a placement are limited, because a range of things can get in the way of you being allowed to work in a particular role:
Health and safety
This is a big one – if you fell and broke your leg while on a placement, an employer might worry about being legally responsible. Some employers will refuse to have a student on work experience, in case that student injures themselves or someone else. Most schools will only let you go to an employer that has been inspected, so that the school knows you are going somewhere that’s safe.
Most employers have liability insurance, to cover themselves if a member of the public is harmed in some way. The employers might not be covered by the insurance if the harm was caused by a work experience student, so for this reason some employers will refuse to offer any placements.
Some job types are harder to get into than others. Often placements with animals are difficult to come by, and students interested in a career in medicine can find it a challenge to get a placement in a hospital. This can be down to the number of other people wanting to do it, or because there aren’t enough employers willing to offer work experience.
Before you start your placement
Before you turn up on your first day, make sure you find out what kind of clothes you will need to wear. Some placements will provide you with a uniform or protective equipment, and others will expect you to provide your own, so find out in advance. You might need to bring your own lunch or some money to buy something to eat. Plan out your route and do a practice journey beforehand so that you know where you are going.
If you have a mobile phone, make sure it’s charged before you set off and that you have a phone number for someone at your placement – just in case you need to let them know you are running late or that you’re not well. Put your mobile on silent though, before you start work!
While you’re on work experience
Once you’ve got your work experience placement, your school might give you a booklet or diary to complete. If they don’t, then you should try and make a list of things you want to find out. You might like to ask the other employees what they like the most (and the least!) about the job. It could be useful to ask how people get into the business, or find out what kind of training the company offers its employees. All of this will give you a better idea about the job and the type of work the company does.
To get the most out of your work experience, it’s important to treat your placement like a real, paid job. This means getting there on time, working hard, doing what you are asked to do and following the rules.
After your placement
Once your work experience is over, you will probably have a better idea of whether or not you would want to go into that kind of work in the future. It‘s polite to thank the people who had you on a placement, especially if you enjoyed it, because you might be asking them for a job one day! It’s useful to spend some time afterwards really thinking about what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about the placement. Maybe your work experience has given you some more questions about this type of work – you might find it useful to talk about it with your teacher, your school’s careers adviser or your family.
Remember that even if you don’t enjoy all of your work placement, it will still be a useful chance to pick up some skills and try something new. Hopefully you will love your work experience and it will help you to decide on the career direction you want to go in. Good luck with your placement!