Helping students get good work experience

We take a look at what makes a quality work experience placement, why it’s important for school leavers, and how you can help ensure your students get good work experience. 


Work experience opportunities are crucial to school leavers – this year’s AllAboutSchoolLeavers’ research shows that 47% of students say it is the factor most likely to persuade them
to do an apprenticeship or take on a role within a company – and it’s also a requirement for schools and colleges to make sure their students get good work experience.

The same AllAboutSchoolLeavers research found more than 85% of employers think work experience “is a way for us to find future employees”, and that 72.7% of employers think work experience provides “better access” to their particular profession. It’s not just our research that shows the importance of work experience: relevant work experience was rated by 66% of recruiting employers as being a critical or significant factor looked for in candidates (UKCES Employer Perspectives Survey, 2014).  

Those who miss out on this vital opportunity really do feel it later on in life:  31% of young people starting their working lives do not feel they have the appropriate skills, citing a lack of work experience (71%) as being their main weakness (CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey, 2013). There are even some professions – journalism, architecture and roles in the music industry, for example – for which work experience is almost essential; young people will have to put in hours at the office as well as gain qualifications.

What is it?

As defined by the government, a high quality work experience placement should be:

  • Purposeful, substantial, challenging and relevant to the young person’s study programme and career aspirations
  • Managed under the direction of a supervisor to ensure the young person obtains a genuine learning experience suited to their needs
  • Structured, with a plan for the duration of the placement which provides tangible outcomes for the student and employer
  • Focused on the skills required for that industry or sector
  • Clear in terms of roles, responsibilities and expectations for the student and employer
  • Followed by some form of reference or feedback from the employer based on the young person’s performance

The key to making work experience effective, relevant and useful in the long-term for students is to ensure that it takes place with an external employer, external to the place where they study, where they can experience the real demands of the working environment, independent from their peers and their tutors.

Government guidance

 Official guidance also says colleges and school sixth forms should:

·       Ensure that students who have completed work experience get some form of feedback from employers and also to provide employers with feedback to improve the quality of future placements

·       Match students to placement opportunities - by looking at their existing skills, the qualifications they are taking and their possible future career options - and then prepare them fully beforehand

·       Be flexible in terms of timing and length of placements – they could be once a week throughout a term, longer block placements, or a rotation of shorter placements at different employers so students can experience different aspects of the sector. This will depend on employers’ capacity and what the student needs to become work-ready.

If you are helping to arrange work experience for your students, it is worth focusing on large national businesses as well as smaller local ones – this will present your students with the best range of opportunities. Engaging with larger brands can be tricky, so AllAboutSchoolLeavers is working on a range of solutions to help teachers and careers advisers to do this more effectively.

This will allow teachers to alert organisations of what they are hoping to arrange as well as details employers might find useful ­– dates available, their year group and genders, for example. If this is a service you might like to use, please contact our Communications Executive, Georgia Leefe, at

Recruiting school leavers? We can help