What do students think about work experience?

Mar 13, 2024 | Home Featured, Research, Work experience/internships

Learning about diverse careers and engaging with professionals are the key takeaways from work experiences for young people, according to Uptree’s Student Survey report.

Uptree believes in equal career opportunities based on talent and potential, not background. We value our diverse network, which includes over 285,000 young people from nearly 700 partner schools nationwide, where an average of 23% of young people are eligible for free school meals.

Our 2024 Student Survey report was created in collaboration with the Bridge Group, a non-profit consultancy that uses research to promote social equality. It delves into young people’s goals, the value they found in work experience events and standout moments.

Highlights of work experience events

Uptree found that 27% of student respondents believed that learning about career routes was the most memorable aspect of the events they attended.

These findings suggest that career pathway talks from company professionals are needed to provide clear information on pathways available. In turn, these talks can improve career choices for young people.

On the other hand, 25% of our respondents found Q&A sessions with employers to be the most memorable aspect of the events they attended.

Providing opportunities for young people to ask employers questions enables young people to gain a thorough understanding of a role or sector and the skills and steps needed to work in an area. This enables a ‘Meaningful Encounter’, as per the Gatsby Foundation’s guidelines for Good Career Guidance.

The statistics show that 63% of student respondents were from non-white ethnic groups, indicating that they value peer networking more.

According to research from ISER, young people from minority ethnic groups rely more on personal connections to gain employment than their white counterparts and face significant disadvantages in the job market if they lack the right networks.

Value of work experience

The survey revealed that over 86% of respondents found Uptree’s work experience events valuable; they agreed that they couldn’t get this information from friends, family, school or elsewhere.

Recognising that young people coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds may have limited opportunities is essential, suggesting that employers have a role to play in providing accessible work experiences for their future employees.

By providing accessible experiences, employers are creating a diverse future workforce, better able to meet the business challenges of the future.

Ideal work experience

The survey found that 44% of student respondents thought the ideal work experience event would include information on training and progression, while 36% wanted to know what the career entails.

We believe young people are ambitious and seek success. However, they also need clarity on career information to be able to understand their potential pathways and succeed in their next steps.

A recent study from The Careers and Enterprise Company suggests a lack of career readiness among young students coming from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, possibly due to a lack of school career provision (achieving only certain Gatsby Benchmarks). Work experience can counter this.

The Gatsby Foundation recommends young people receive multiple meaningful experiences with employers over their school career, to learn about the world of work and the skills they’ll need for the future.

With this in mind, it is important for employers to continue to regularly hold career pathway talks with students, sharing their career paths.

Employers also need to provide schools with up-to-date labour market information (Gatsby Benchmark 2), so this information can be passed on during curriculum learning.

The survey showed that 41% of the respondents found practical guidance on job applications to be the key feature of the ideal work experience event.

Whilst schools are prepared to support young people with the traditional employability skills of writing a CV or cover letter, many may struggle to help students with modern application processes.

Assessment centres, competency tests, and video interviews are the most common application processes students may not have learned about in school, but are a regular feature for applications with top employers.

Students should be introduced to the application process early on to prepare them for it.

Barriers to attending work experience

According to the findings, travel costs are the most significant barrier for 54% of our student respondents who faced barriers to attending work experience events.

Travel costs, particularly in regions outside of London, may be an issue for Uptree’s students from low socioeconomic backgrounds attending events due to the financial burden it places on these students and their families.

Employers’ assistance with travel expenses could remove some of the financial burden and make it more feasible for young people to attend work experiences.

Secondly, 34% of barrier-exposed respondents said schools don’t support absences.

School priorities seem to conflict with employer needs. One possibility is that deadlines for roles and academic schedule are too close together.

Employers need to consider schools’ priorities to integrate work experience events into the academic calendar. To support employers with this, Uptree has developed an Outreach Calendar resource that helps employers see important dates in the academic calendar and highlights optimum times for running work experience. You can download the free resource here.

The third most common barrier was lack of confidence, cited by 36% of students.

One of the primary causes of young people’s lack of confidence could be their limited exposure to networking and professional settings. The Covid-19 pandemic caused many young people to lose much of their early exposure to professionals.

According to the feedback from one of our school partners, “Uptree has become a great platform for career opportunities, and we are enthusiastic to inform our students about your online career events. When they initially feel uncomfortable at in-person events, it boosts their confidence.”

Employers can enhance the confidence and career success of young individuals by offering insight days and providing as much information as possible to reduce anxiety, such as a clear agenda, detailed directions and a jargon-free dress code.

Sense of belonging

In today’s workforce, belonging is critical for young people’s success and satisfaction – 87% said a sense of belonging at work is ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important.’

This generation values workplace connection and purpose, and when they fit in, they succeed. Establishing trust with employers may boost young people’s engagement, motivation, and productivity.

Promoting inclusive hiring practices is critical to developing a diverse and inclusive workforce, which can create a greater sense of belonging for the future workforce. Offering work experience is a good way to showcase company culture and help students feel a sense of belonging, which helps the employer become an employer of choice.

Fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives can bring diverse ideas and experiences to the table and promote innovation and creativity.

Furthermore, 61% of young people with disabilities deemed a sense of belonging at the workplace to be ‘highly important.’ People with disabilities may face more significant barriers at work that limit their participation.

It is important that work experience days are accessible to people who have disabilities.

Plans for the future

Findings suggest that through participation in the events, students (80%) have gained insights that were previously unavailable to them regarding their future careers.

In contrast, there was a tendency towards more neutral or negative responses among those indicating a disability.

In today’s rapidly changing job market, it is crucial for employers to continue providing all young people with a comprehensive insight into the options available to them.

By recognising and valuing abilities, providing necessary accommodations, and promoting inclusivity in all aspects, we can help individuals with disabilities thrive in their career journey.

Uptree, through its commitment to providing valuable career experiences, is positioned to address the above findings. We look forward to working with employers across the UK in 2024 to support even more young people.

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