Making Work Experience Work For Young People

Making Work Experience Work For Young People


Landing your first full-time job as a graduate can be one of the most influential moments of our careers - but it can also be one of the hardest things to secure.

Young people are among the most disadvantaged groups in the labour market because they lack the experience of the workplace and job-specific skills that employers ask for. FYA’s New Work Reality report revealed that even though young people today are better educated than ever, 50% of 25 year olds are unable to secure full-time work after completing full-time education.

Work experience is something employers value, alongside attitude and in some cases, more than qualifications. In fact, research shows that completing 5,000 hours of relevant, paid work experience sped up the transition to full-time employment by 12 months. It is easy to understand why – on-the-job experience boosts confidence and helps to build understanding of how skills translate to the workplace.

Providing meaningful work experience can mean opening up access to a wider range of talent for employers, who in turn benefit from the fresh perspective young people bring and receive an opportunity for staff to develop their management and mentoring skills.

If you’re keen to support either students or school leavers to access meaningful work experience, you might be wondering where do you start. We’ve put together a few practical tips for employers on how to make work experience work for everyone involved:

  1. Figure out what the individual wants to achieve through work experience

At the beginning of their placement, internship or work experience, ask the individual what they want to get out of their placement.  This will help you understand if their time is best spent with one particular department, project, or with a variety of teams to have a broad range of experiences.

So how do you figure out what your work experience student wants out of their experience? Just ask. Yes, it is really that simple. Here are some talking points to get you started:

  • Get to know them, their interests and hobbies;
  • Understand their previous work experience;
  • Talk about expectations on both sides and establish their goals; and
  • Provide space for them to ask questions.
  1. Plan their time with your organisation and give them meaningful work to do

A quality work experience placement should be purposeful, relevant and really challenge young people to think about their career goals and abilities. It should also be planned and supervised so the time is well spent.

Find a project or team within your organisation that best suits the young person’s aspirations. Don’t give them meaningless tasks to do – identify low-skilled activities that don’t require extensive training that will make them feel valued and give them an opportunity to learn.

Map out regular check-ins to help ensure progress is being met and give them opportunities to ask questions. Remember this is likely their first time in a workplace and it takes a lot of confidence to raise a concern or ask questions as the youngest person in the workplace.

  1. Make it official and legal

There are many different ways for young people to get an introduction to work at various stages. It is important to know what they look like and what kind of qualification or support you might need to set them up. Here’s a quick overview:

Work experience and volunteering is where someone spends a limited time with an employer (usually a month or less). Definition here.

A professional internship is usually a graduate or undergraduate who goes through a more formal selection process and has required hours to complete for their degree.

Australian Apprenticeships and Traineeships are available to school-leavers, people re-entering the workforce or workers simply wishing to change careers – anyone of working age.

Apprenticeships and Traineeships provide a competency-based approached to learning and are available across more than 500 occupations at all levels from Certificates up to Advanced Diplomas, and provide nationally recognised quality training developed by industry for industry. If you are an employer you may even be eligible for some incentives to assist your apprentice or trainee. To find out more about apprenticeships and traineeships and whether they’re right for your organisation take a look at the Australian Apprenticeships Support Network.

Make sure you’re meeting your obligations from a legal perspective with each of these models by checking in with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

  1. Broaden your talent pool

Taking on young people for work experience placements can help an employer tap into a wider talent pool and reach individuals from diverse social backgrounds. To ensure you go broader than existing networks and word-of mouth there are a couple of things you can do.

Firstly, when choosing who receives a placement, be flexible when considering qualifying criteria like level of education, grades and pre-existing work experience.

You can also contact your local school or college directly to discuss a work experience arrangement. Be proactive and reach out to education providers or contact networks such as Careertrackers or the Aurora Project to broaden the potential pool of candidates.

  1. Make sure you provide opportunities for feedback

The easiest way to figure out if you’re on the right track when it comes to work experience is to simply ask! Similar to how you’d do an exit interview with a permanent employee to understand what did and didn’t work, and what can be improved, taking the time to allow young entrants into the workforce to provide feedback on their experience is key.

If you’re going to take this step remember to allow them to do the talking and feel supported to lay all their cards on the table so you can get an honest opinion about their time. If there are things mentioned that you feel can be changed – do it! If you’re already on the right track, even better.

FYA has partnered with the Federal Department of Education and Training to highlight the opportunities in Vocational Education for young Australians navigating the world of work. The So I Heard series explores just some of the many options out there.