Providing work experience opportunities
The work experience process, benefits to employers and young people and how to get the most out of the experience
One challenge that most businesses face is finding the right people to help them develop and grow.
As an employer, you could provide a young person with a quality work placement which would give them a positive experience and increase their employability skills. It could also help you to build a dynamic and productive workforce amongst other benefits of work experience.
By providing a work experience opportunity, you would also be contributing to the education process and to the economy as a whole.
This guide provides information on the different types of work experience opportunities that your business could provide including work experience opportunities for students still at school and work experience opportunities for young people and graduates. There is also guidance on ensuring a safe work experience placement and preparing for the work experience placement including health and safety and risk assessment considerations.
It also highlights the type of work experience activities you could provide so that both you and the young person get the most benefit from the process.
Benefits of work experience
Benefits of work experience for the employer, young person and society
Work experience is an opportunity to introduce young people to the reality of working life within a willing organisation, to help them secure and sustain employment.
By taking students on work experience, you get an opportunity to engage, inspire and inform young people about what working life is really like.
Benefits for employers
Offering work experience can bring a number of benefits to you as an employer:
- Raise your profile - being known as a business that offers work experience opportunities will raise the profile and appeal of your business and sector.
- Improve staff retention - investing in young people brings commitment and loyalty, which means they are more likely to stay with the business which helps maintain productivity and reduce recruitment costs.
- Grow your own talent - get access to the up and coming talent of the future.
- Develop employees - developing your employees by involving them in the placement and providing potential management opportunities can help employees feel motivated and loyal to the business.
- Get additional help at no cost - as an employer, you do not have to pay students on work experience.
- Achieve new perspective and ideas - young people often bring fresh ideas and approaches which may open up new and emerging markets for the business.
- Gain new understanding of modern learning - increase your understanding of modern learning processes and current educational qualifications.
Benefits for young people and society/industry
There are a number of benefits for young people and for the rest of society and industry:
- Increase in knowledge - work experience can increase students' occupational knowledge and understanding of the skills, attributes and qualifications required.
- Breaking the cycle - many young people find themselves in a situation where they cannot get a job because of lack of experience so taking part in a work placement gives them this valuable experience.
- Improvement in communication skills - work placements help young people to gain experience in working with people, enhancing their social and communication skills.
- Learning about the recruitment process - applying for a placement provides the opportunity to learn about recruitment eg how to apply for a job, prepare for job interviews and building a CV.
- Economic development - work experience contributes to economic development within the local community.
- Improve competitiveness - work experience opportunities can help industry to remain competitive.
Work experience opportunities for students still at school
Employer guidance on arranging work experience placements for students still at school
There are various ways that you can advertise or source workplace opportunities.
Connect to Success NI
You can raise awareness of work experience opportunities available at your organisation with school pupils via Connect to Success NI.
Connect to Success NI is an online system that enables employers to promote and advertise work experience opportunities for young people who are still at school.
The system, developed by the Department for the Economy, offers employers the facility to upload their work experience opportunities to help young people find them more quickly and easily.
School Employer Connections and Business in the Community Work Inspiration
Alternatively, you may wish to use one of the following organisations to manage opportunities on your behalf. These organisations provide a brokerage service to support employers and school career teachers arrange work experience placements for post-primary students.
- School Employer Connections caters for the Western region of Northern Ireland
- Business in the Community Work Inspiration focuses on the greater Belfast area and Eastern region of Northern Ireland
Schools and colleges
A number of schools and colleges encourage young people to find their own placement. However, there are occasions when careers teachers will source placements for the students.
Some schools and colleges have also developed partnerships with local employers.
Specialist Provision for Industry using College Expertise (SPICE), which has centres at the six further education colleges in Northern Ireland, is an initiative which provides assistance in arranging student placements between employers and students.
Arranging work experience
Issues to consider when thinking of taking part in work experience include:
- Duration of placement - most schools and colleges prefer a five day block placement, however, some may be open to three or four day placements.
- Age of students - most students go on work experience in year 12 (aged 15-16) and /or year 13 (age 16-17) or year 14 (age 17-18).
- No cost to employer - you do not have to pay students on work experience.
Work experience opportunities for young people and graduates
There are ways you can source or advertise work experience opportunities for young people and graduates.
Training for Success
Training for Success has been developed by the Department for the Economy so that young people can obtain training and development to progress in the workplace.
Through the programme, you can provide work experience opportunities for school leavers aged 16-17 years (and up to age 22 and 24 for those with extended eligibility).
Work Experience Programme
Read full details on the Work Experience Programme: providing short work placements to support unemployed people.
Preparing for the work experience placement
Providing as much information as possible about the placement to the young person in advance gives them a clearer guide about what to expect and reduces their anxiety.
Before starting, the placement supervisor should try to inform the student about the following:
- where to go on their first day
- who to report to
- start and finish time
- canteen facilities or alternatives
- dress code (smart/casual can be confusing, so you could provide a few examples)
Placement plans provide both the supervisor and student with a placement structure.
You may wish to consider incorporating the following into the placement plan:
- welcome and overview of company
- induction - Health and Safety, Fire Exits, confidentiality
- provision of uniform/pass if required
- tour including canteen and toilets
- instruction in the safe use of any equipment including IT equipment
- timetable for the week
- what activities the student will be doing
- details of any projects they may have to complete
- review of placement when completed
It would be beneficial both for you and the student to spend some time before the placement commences identifying different tasks, projects and activities that they can work on.
Ensuring a safe work experience placement
There are a number of things you should ensure are in place before a young person starts their work placement.
You should ensure the young person is covered by your company's public liability and employer's liability insurance. Read more on liability insurance.
- you may be required to provide proof of this liability insurance to the school or college
- you may also have to sign an indemnity form which the school or college will provide
For further information, download the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Employers' Liability guide (PDF, 305K).
Health and safety
You are responsible for the student's health and safety while they are on placement with you. Read more on what you need to do about health and safety.
Employers should be mindful also of the following legal constraints in place to protect the student.
Students should not:
- be asked to work outside the hours of 09:00 to 17:00
- be asked to work more than 36.25 hours per week, excluding travel or lunch breaks
- work for more than five days in any consecutive seven day period
- drive, manage, control or move mechanically propelled vehicles
- undertake work experience in a place where they are under the statutory age limit
- work in ways prohibited for under 18s eg on aeroplanes, the airport apron, boats/ships, or portside
- undertake placements working at heights, in confined spaces or with dangerous substances
Read more on employing children and young people.
You should ensure your risk assessment is up-to-date to include work experience students. Read more on health and safety risk assessment.
Your staff should be made aware of your organisation's child protection policy.
You should consider the following:
- Do you have you a child protection policy or procedure in place?
- Basic child protection training is required if there is a named supervisor with responsibility for trainees.
- Is the named supervisor checked through AccessNI? Read more on AccessNI criminal records checks.
- A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is required if the employee's specific job purpose includes looking after under 16 work experience students. Read more about the Disclosure and Barring Service.
- As part of the risk assessment with regards to the placement, have you considered the location, travel and access to confidential material?
- Instructions and guidance should be given to all employees in relation to bullying, inappropriate behaviour, language, including horseplay. Read more on bullying and harassment.
- The need for one-to-one work with a single adult should be avoided wherever possible.
Work experience activities
It is worth taking time to plan activities for a work experience placement so that both you and the student will get the most out of the experience
Work experience should be beneficial both to you and the young person, so it is essential they are given as much insight into the world of work as possible.
This will allow opportunities for professional development and ensure they can demonstrate their practical experience to potential employers in the future.
Some suggestions for the types of tasks include:
- offer them a project to work on during the placement
- identify some work shadowing or team working opportunities
- assign a task for them to work on which is supervised but with scope to use their own ideas and creativity
- some administrative tasks such as answering telephones, sending emails, minute taking or filing
You could also ask the student directly if they have any suggestions for what they would like to do, or improvements they think could be made within your business.
Monitoring the work experience placement
A member of staff should be identified as a Placement Supervisor to support, supervise and mentor the student during their work experience.
This person will also be the first point of contact for the school or college during the placement.
The Placement Supervisor should:
- create a placement plan for the student
- contact the student prior to placement and let them know where to go on their first day
- welcome the student and carry out their induction to the company
- ensure the student is treated as a young adult who is making a valuable contribution to the team
- be approachable and offer positive feedback
- be the first point of contact for the student in any instances of absence
- encourage the student to reflect on what they have learned on a daily basis and how these new skills could enhance their CV
- where possible, meet with the student at the start and end of each day
- liaise with the school or college before, during and after the placement
A teacher or representative from the school or college may want to make a visit during the placement or telephone to discuss how the placement is going and what the student is achieving.
On the last day, where possible you and/or the placement supervisor should meet with the student to discuss their placement.
You may wish to discuss the following:
- the student's achievements
- lessons learned
- how the experience relates to their education and career plans
- if there are there any positions coming up the company they may be interested in
You will usually be asked to complete a student assessment form. This is a very useful document for the student as it can be used in the future as a CV reference.
You may also be asked to complete an employer assessment form for evaluation purposes.
This will allow a critical analysis to be carried out. All suggested recommendations/improvements should be followed up by the school or college.
Providing work experience opportunities - Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (video)
Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, explains how providing work experience opportunities has benefited their organisation
Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, explains how providing work experience opportunities has benefited their organisation.
An environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful campaigns directly to the public to bring about positive changes in behaviour.
Providing work experience opportunities is part of the organisation's ethos and in this video, Ian and Community Development Officer Nicola Murray, talk about how they prepare for new work experience students, tasks that the students get involved in and challenges and benefits to the business.
In addition, work experience student Alastair Fenn, who has subsequently been employed by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful in the role of Environmental Quality Assurance Officer, describes his experience of Business in the Community's Responsible Internship Programme and the opportunities it provided in helping to progress his career.
Find out about advertising work experience opportunities online through Connect to Success NI.