Many employers are approached to host a student from aged 14 upwards for a week or two of work experience. Sometimes it’s a student who has a link to the company perhaps a parent is an employee or sometimes it’s random. Either way, you can guarantee that the student will be shy and nervous and very much out of their comfort zone. For some it’s obligatory and they may not have chosen to be there, but they are there and it’s up to you and your team to make the most out of it for them as well as your company.
It is vital that students partake in work experience as it provides them with an insight into what it’s like to experience the workplace environment. As well as gaining key skills such as communication, working within a team and time management all being essential key components and highly valued of an employer.
Work experience is a great opportunity for a student, but it’s a great opportunity for your staff too. They must explain what they are doing and why to someone who doesn’t know, and that can be quite an insight into their own understanding of their role and the company itself.
It’s a great way of encouraging links within your company and the local school or college especially if you recruit school leavers.
It’s easy for the student to be in the way and hinder the productiveness of your team, and it’s also easy for them to feel like a distraction to you, so in turn, they don’t enjoy or value the experience and don’t get anything positive out of it.
So ahead of a student joining you, prepare a meeting with staff who will be taking any responsibility and make a plan.
The appointed ‘buddy’ is there to provide informal support and guidance to the student to reduce pressure and anxiety they may be feeling. The appointed ‘buddy’ needs to keep in contact to let the student know what to expect. This should cover:
On day one expect the student to be very nervous and very uncertain of what to do, say and even where to stand so brief staff to give clear and basic instructions.
Introduce the student to people – firstly they will probably not remember names and secondly may not be expecting a greeting handshake. Expect to repeat names. Many students struggle with eye contact and small talk, so they appear rude, but most are often genuinely terrified!
With a work experience student, assume they know nothing. They would rather have something repeated throughout the week than the assumption that they know.
Try to have a list of duties for the student to do and if possible, write down full instructions. If you want them to answer a ringing phone, tell them what to say and what to expect the caller to ask/ want. If you don’t want them to answer a ringing phone – tell them that too. If they are assisting with filing, assume that they won’t have done any before, so they need to know how to arrange the paperwork according to the company’s filing system.
Try to vary who the student is with, so they see a variety of jobs within the company, this will make them feel more comfortable with other members of the team. This is also so no employees are falling behind in their work as they are explaining and getting delayed.
If the student has a particular interest, try to tailor their working day to where their interests lie to keep them motivated.
Have a proper mid-week review- check with the student that they are happy. By day three they should hopefully have settled into the working environment and feel comfortable with members of the team, and with their confidence increasing if they feel able to ask to spend time with a particular person or department then this is great news!
At the end of their work experience have a review with your staff- did they feel they gave the student a great insight into the company and the industry, what would they have done differently (In most cases employees are shocked with how shy and nervous the students are therefore how difficult they find it is to engage with them) and would they be involved in the scheme again.
Nicola Stout, MBA, FCIPD, Dip HR