Work experience for young people and students

Spending time in a workplace can help you find a job and decide which career you would like to follow. ‘Work experience’ usually means spending a short time in a workplace, where you can learn by:

  • joining in with everyday tasks
  • shadowing people to find out what their job involves
  • trying out short assignments
  • learning to do some tasks on your own
  • listening and talking to people as they work
  • getting feedback from managers and colleagues

Work experience is usually unpaid and does not follow any formal training programme. It usually lasts from a day to a few weeks. It is different from an apprenticeship, traineeship or a work placement as part of a programme of study. If these are more what you’re looking for, try these links:

Apprenticeships (GOV.UK)

Traineeships (GOV.UK)

Work placements (Prospects)


Internships are very similar to work experience. An internship lasts for a fixed time. Internships should have clear objectives and a more structured programme of tasks than work experience. Young people usually do internships during summer holidays or after college or university. Internships are a good way to bridge the gap between education and employment. Most internships are not paid or are paid at least National Minimum Wage. You may be offered lunch and travel expenses.

Current rates for National Minimum Wage (GOV.UK)

Paid internships

If you’re being paid to do an internship, you are a ‘worker’ or an ‘employee’. Workers and employees have more rights than volunteers.

Unpaid internships

Having a more defined role in an organisation can give you the chance to learn specific skills. If you are doing the same work as paid employees and not learning, you should be paid.

Internships and employment rights (GOV.UK)

Guidance about internships (Prospects)

Benefits of work experience

Work experience is valuable for getting a job. It can help you:

  • get used to the practicalities of work, such as commuting, getting up early, having a manager
  • learn new skills to add to your CV 
  • try out different types of job and work environments
  • build confidence and independence
  • learn how to work with a range of people

Be open to opportunities. Even if you cannot find something in your chosen field, any work experience can help you build useful skills.

For example, you might have work experience in a shop. You will learn to work as a team, follow instructions and deal with customers. These skills might be just as important in a hospital or a fashion business. It’s up to you to show an employer how you can apply the skills you’ve learnt.

Finding work experience opportunities

There are many ways to find work experience. You will need to do your own research and approach the people or businesses you are interested in.

To help you get started:

  • write down the industries or careers that you’d like to try out
  • search for local employers that interest you
  • think about what you want to learn from a work experience placement

This will help you to focus your time. It can take hard work to find experience that suits you, but employers will be impressed that you’ve done your research.

Ask people you know

Think of friends, family or people you know who run a business or who work somewhere that interests you. Ask them if they could help you learn some new skills to help you further your career. Or ask if they know somebody in your chosen field.

Social media

Social media can be a great way to connect with small businesses and local organisations.

How to use social media to find a job

Local charities and social enterprises may also be keen to offer work experience to the communities they support. Try to find an individual contact. Send them a direct message or call them if they have a company phone number. Tell them why you like their work and what you think you could learn from them.

Update your profile or status to say that you are looking for work experience in your chosen field.

How do I create a good profile? (LinkedIn)

Staying safe online (Childline)

School or college

Many schools and colleges will let students take time off to do work experience. They should have a member of staff who can help find opportunities and support you to apply. They can be called a Careers Leader or Careers Adviser.

Schools often have connections with local employers interested in offering work experience. The school can help make sure that the placement is suitable for you. They may help to arrange transport to and from your placement.

Speak to your Careers Leader or your form teacher to find out if you can get help.

If you need extra support to move into employment, you may be able to apply for a supported internship if you are aged 16 to 25.

Supported internships

Finding opportunities online

You may need to contact businesses about work experience because they do not always advertise this online.

Larger companies may have more formal schemes for work placements or internships. If you are interested in law or accountancy, for example, bigger firms may advertise opportunities on their websites.

There are some websites where you can search for opportunities by industry, location or type of work. These can include:

  • unpaid work experience
  • internships
  • apprenticeships
  • training programmes

Work experience and internships (Prospects)

Search for local work experience (Get my first job)

Find work experience for young people (Movement to Work)

Placements in community projects (The Prince’s Trust)

Virtual work experiences

Some employers offer virtual placements so that you may be able to do some work experience from home.

Virtual work experience (Speakers for Schools)

Virtual work experience (Springpod)

Work experience is different from volunteering

The difference between volunteering and work experience is crucial.

When you do work experience, you will be trying out the tasks involved in a paid job. You might shadow a paid employee or help with some of their work for a short time.

Volunteers work more informally and are unpaid. They should not do the work of a paid employee.

Volunteering to develop your skills

Asking employers for work experience

Many employers will receive lots of requests for work experience, so it’s important to make a good first impression. Spend some time finding out as much as you can about the employer.

How to contact employers

The way you contact the employer will vary.

If they are a family friend, you might give them a call or ask your family to contact them for you.

If they are a local business, you might email, call or send them a message on social media.

If they are a larger company, you may need to call them to find out who to send your request to. Try to find out the name of the person in charge of the area you are interested in and ask for them directly.

Look online to see how the employer prefers to communicate with people. This could include:

  • their website
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Instagram

What to include in your first contact

Again, this depends on the employer. Think about the way they present themselves. Is their website chatty and friendly? Or do they use formal language? Try to use a similar tone, though always be respectful. Whether you are sending an email, a direct message or making a phone call, prepare a brief summary of your request. This could include:

  • what you like about their business
  • where you heard about them
  • what you would like to learn
  • your career hopes
  • when you would like to do work experience and for how long
  • what stage you are in your education or career

If you have a CV, share it with them. Tell them a bit about what you could bring to their business. This could be experience you’ve gained from school, hobbies or outside interests. For example, you might be a great team player or good at solving arguments amongst your friends. You will have skills that will be useful to a workplace, even if you’ve never had a job.

Getting help to approach an employer

Scope’s Career Pathways supports young disabled people into employment through one-to-one specialist advice and support.  

Most secondary schools have a Careers Leader who can support you to make your first approach to an employer. This might be a teacher or an external adviser who comes into the school from another organisation.

Most colleges and universities have a careers service. They can help you find opportunities, make applications or help you write your CV. Find out more on your college or university website.

Which jobs suit your strengths? (Careers Wales)

Preparing for work experience

If you’ve never spent time in a workplace, you might feel nervous on your first day. Remember, this is an opportunity for you to learn. If you feel uncomfortable or are not sure what to do, ask for help.

Before you go

Talk to the person who arranged the work experience about what to expect from the placement.

Find out what time you need to arrive and when you can go home. This might be different from paid employees. Your working day may be longer than a day at school or college.

Find out if you need to bring lunch or snacks with you.

Wear appropriate clothes

Some workplaces expect staff to be smart, others are happy for people to wear jeans. They might ask you to wear a uniform. Check with the person who organised your placement.

If you do not have smart clothes to wear, you could try:

Smart Works (for women)

Suited for Success UK

Working Wardrobe (Greater Manchester)

Work out your travel

Work out how you will get there and how long it will take. You might want to ask a parent or friend to drop you off on the first day, so they know where you are.

Give your parent or friend the name and contact details of the person you are working with. Check the company website for contact details if you are not sure.

Some employers offer money towards the costs of travel and lunch. You are giving up your time to contribute to their work, so it’s reasonable to ask if they can help with these costs.

Transport for disabled people

Asking for reasonable adjustments

You can ask for adjustments to help you get the most out of your time with the employer. Talk to the person who you arranged the placement with.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

Tell them if they can do anything to make sure you get the most out of your time with them. This might include:

  • bringing your own laptop or mouse
  • checking the office space is suitable for you
  • being able to take a call from your parents at a certain time
  • a timetable of what you will be doing each day
  • finding a quiet space for you to get away from a noisy office
  • help to arrange or plan travel to the workplace

Find out if a workplace is accessible

Funding for reasonable adjustments

You may be able to get help with the costs of reasonable adjustments.

Access to Work is a grant scheme to support disabled people into work.

Through the government’s Youth Contract, it can support young disabled people to take part in self-arranged work experience or work trials. You must arrange this through a Job Coach at Jobcentre Plus. Talk to them about what you want to do.

Getting the most out of your work experience

Most work experience lasts for a week or so. You’ve worked hard to secure your experience, so make sure you get the most out of it.

Talk to as many people as you can

You may meet people you would never meet in everyday life, so take the chance to learn about how they work.

Make contacts

Personal networks are a great way to find out about jobs or events in your industry. You could ask someone you’ve worked with to give you a reference. You might need this when you apply for a job. Tell your parent or guardian if you are going to meet up with a colleague outside the workplace.

Keep a diary

It can be hard to take everything in. At the end of each day, talk to parents or friends or write down what tasks you were involved in. Think about what skills you are learning. This will help you put together your CV.

If work experience is not going as you expected

Speak up if there is a problem. If an employer has agreed to give you work experience, they probably want to help you. Talk to the person who arranged the placement if you feel worried about anything or are not getting support. Having the confidence to speak up is a useful skill to learn for any workplace.

Work experience and benefits

Work experience is unpaid and should not affect your benefits. It should qualify as ‘looking for work’.

If you have a Job Coach, talk to them about what you want to do. They may agree that you do not need to go into the job centre during your work experience.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 14/02/2024

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