The value of work experience

13 January 2012
Rebecca Ellinor, managing editor, Supply ManagementWhile local authorities have a duty to encourage work experience for students 16 to 19 year olds and UK government has said it needs to “ensure that all young people are able to gain real experience and knowledge of the workplace”, it is actually seeking to drop compulsory work experience placements for 14 to 16-year-olds. The Forum of Private Business has expressed concern at the proposal to scrap mandatory work experience for GCSE pupils. It warns that it will “further reduce the number of work-ready youngsters entering the job market” and says instead of removing current provision the government should in fact expand it. I am in agreement. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older but I concur that work experience is a valuable process and certainly ‘kids these days’ would benefit from time spent in a work environment to understand what it is like and how to – and how not to – behave. I admit, when I did the fortnight’s placement as a teenager it wasn’t quite as expected – in fact it was a bit of a disappointment. I opted to spend two weeks at a law firm because I was interested in it as a future career. After just one day spent seeing what was involved, I was rethinking my plans. In the meantime, the law office clearly thought I could be more usefully ‘employed’ elsewhere, so I spent the rest of the experience in a cold, dusty archive warehouse helping them file and retrieve old documents. During that time I learned how to move folders about and bleach dirty tea cups, but I also confirmed I neither wanted to work in an archive nor a solicitor’s firm, I had to dress smartly, turn up on time and follow the example set by those around me, so it wasn’t fruitless. Work experience I arranged during university holidays then helped me select and secure a future career and since 2010 I’ve had a flow of trainee journalists come in and spend time with us for the same reason. No doubt some of you do the same. Not only does it help those who come in, it’s a useful way of raising the profile of the profession and your organisation. If you don’t already provide work experience placements, you might like to consider it in line with the presidential theme for this year and the SM campaign to make procurement the profession of choice.          
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