Securing tomorrow's talent the competitive edge of offering work experience

In the relentless pursuit of staying ahead in today's fiercely competitive business landscape, securing top-tier talent has become more challenging than ever. Businesses face an uphill battle as they navigate the complexities of recruiting individuals with the right skills, adaptability, attitudes and aspirations.

Recognising the pivotal role of work experience in shaping future professionals is not just a matter of goodwill; it’s a strategic move to gain a competitive edge in the race for talent acquisition. In this dynamic environment, where the demand for specialised skills is high and the supply is limited, offering work experience to young people emerges as a crucial strategy for businesses looking to fortify their talent pipelines and ensure a sustainable future workforce.

Recent research shows that only about 40% of businesses offer activities such as work experience to young people, and one thing is apparent- those businesses will have an advantage later. About 80% of businesses in a new survey say working with schools is encouraging young people to take up careers in their sector. 78% say it’s increasing job applications.

They also recognise the untapped potential that young people from less-represented backgrounds can offer. Yet, they get fewer opportunities to experience the workplace, unlike their more affluent peers who have access to family networks. Our research shows that young people from private education are twice as likely to have multiple meaningful experiences while in secondary school compared to those in state education. Only 50% of young people participated in placements during their schooling years.

There is overwhelming agreement from the Institute of Directors that work experience is important as a future government policy. It is an affordable and effective way to help with current recruitment challenges and the growing skills gap. We at Speakers for Schools have seen this first-hand.

Early talent identification and development

Offering work experience provides businesses with a unique opportunity to identify and nurture raw talent. By exposing young people to real-world work environments, companies demystify the working environment and the range of roles and pathways available to young people. This early intervention enables organisations to invest in talent development programmes, ensuring awareness and aspiration.

Bridging the skills gap

The business landscape is evolving rapidly, with technology playing a pivotal role in shaping industries. However, the education system often needs help to keep pace with these changes. Offering work experience to young people helps bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical skills. By immersing young minds in real-world scenarios, businesses contribute to developing a skilled workforce equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

Fostering a culture of learning

Engaging with young people through work experience could foster a culture of continuous learning. Young people bring fresh perspectives and a willingness to embrace new ideas. Often, businesses ask young people to do project-related work or develop projects for them to engage with; this can instil a culture where curiosity, creativity, teamwork and innovation are celebrated. This not only benefits the young people young people but also invigorates existing staff members who may find inspiration in the enthusiasm and creativity of their younger counterparts.

Diversifying the workforce

A recent report shows that social class and nepotism are holding young people back from their preferred careers; 71% of young people felt that certain professions – such as becoming a doctor or lawyer – are easier to get into if your parents/carers worked in a similar profession. And 45% of young people who did get work experience cited that a parent rather than their school arranged it.

For businesses aiming to foster inclusivity and reach out to young people without the necessary social capital, offering work experience is perceived as a necessity to support potential talent to rise to the top. It will give young people a sense of self-belief and confidence to succeed.

But one size doesn’t fit all …

There are multiple ways to offer work experience to young people, and these opportunities must align with the dynamics of modern workplaces while considering geographical and social barriers. The emergence of hybrid and virtual placements serves as an excellent example. Virtual work experiences enable employers to engage with more students than is feasible in person, eliminating geographical and costly transportation obstacles for those who cannot afford it. Virtual work experience not only complements in-person opportunities but also allows young individuals to explore a broader range of experiences than ever before.

At Speakers for Schools, we partner with thousands of employers who recognise the value of providing work placements to young people. We prioritise quality in our approach, ensuring that everyone receives an impactful experience through innovative methods. We believe that access to high-quality work experience is a right, not a privilege, and we often find a receptive response from the businesses we work with.

This is a guest blog which contains the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the IoD. 

About the author

Dr. Elnaz Kashef

Dr. Elnaz Kashef,

Director of Policy, Research, and Impact at Speakers for Schools

Dr. Elnaz Kashef is the Director of Policy, Research, and Impact at Speakers for Schools, where she has led the Influence function over the past couple of years. With over a decade of experience in research and policy in the field of career education, employer engagement in education, school-to-work transitions, youth labour market, and employability skills, her work has informed UK government policies and has been cited across major sectoral publications nationally and internationally.

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