Getting work experience can help you find a job and decide which career you would like to follow.
Warning Work experience during coronavirus
The pandemic has been difficult for many employers. Some businesses will find it harder to offer work experience. But some employers are still able to offer virtual placements.
You can still approach employers to start a conversation. You may be able to carry out some work experience from home. Look at the employer’s website to read their latest updates before deciding whether to approach them.
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 is different from an apprenticeship, traineeship or a work placement as part of a programme of study. It usually lasts from a day to a few weeks.
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 people who might be very different to you
Be open to opportunities. Even if you cannot find experience in your chosen field, any work experience can help you build useful skills.
For example, you might do work experience in a supermarket. 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 can be a great way to connect with small businesses and local organisations.
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.
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.
Most schools will give you time off if you have found work experience that could help you once you’ve finished your education.
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.
You could apply for a supported internship if you are aged 16 to 25.
Supported internships provide unpaid work experience for people who need extra support to move into employment. They usually last from 6 months to a year.
Supported internships may not be available in the industry you are interested in. They can still be a great way to get used to the work environment with support from a job coach or manager.
You can find out about supported internships in your area from:
the Careers Leader at your school or a local college
your social worker or transition worker
your local authority’s ‘Local Offer’ website (search for ‘supported internship’)
DFN Project Search, which runs supported internships for young learning disabled people and people with autism
An internship lasts for a fixed period of 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.
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:
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 to find opportunities, make applications or help you write your CV. Find out more on your college or university website.
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. You might be asked to wear a uniform. Check with the person who organised your placement.
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.
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.
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
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 only 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.
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.