Introducing the new Work Experience Standard

Jun 29, 2022 | Work experience/internships

A new Work Experience Standard provides a framework for employers to achieve best practice, explains Elaine Boyes, Executive Director at AGCAS.

AGCAS convened a cross sector group in 2020 of employers, sector organisations and university careers service leaders to discuss how we could work together to discourage unpaid internships.

Although our initial concern was pay, we noted that there were other elements needed to create good quality work experience. The group identified five areas that need to be considered:

  • Remuneration and benefits
  • Role and responsibilities
  • Development and learning
  • Management, mentoring and feedback
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion

We agreed that there is a standard that ought to be met for an opportunity to be promoted to students and graduates as well as a good practice guide, which we would encourage employers to work towards.

A sub-group of volunteers from AGCAS Placement and Work-based Learning Task Group produced a draft Standard and Good Practice Guide. Over the following months, we surveyed employers and careers professionals to gain their views on the proposed Standard.

This led to the definitive Work Experience Standard and Best Practice Guide which were launched at the AGCAS Annual Conference last week. These have already been endorsed by the ISE, RateMyPlacement, Clifford Chance, NCUB, Prospects and Group GTI.

In the coming months, we will be working with AGCAS Career Service Members and employers to adopt the Standard and work towards the Good Practice Guide. We are looking for your support and hope that you will sign up to endorse and adopt the Standard.

Why we need a Work Experience Standard

Unpaid internships have been a cause of concern for policy makers, educators, and employers for some time. We will all remember that a ban on unpaid internships was proposed as a Private Members Bill in the UK Parliament pre-pandemic.

However, the pandemic raised concerns that there would be an increase in unpaid internships. The Prospects Early Careers Survey in 2021 found that of the 19% of university students who had done work experience, 59% had undertaken unpaid work. The same research found that 62% of university students who had worked unpaid had done so for more than four weeks in 2020/21 compared to 41% in the 2018 survey.

As well as being illegal, unpaid internships disadvantage students and graduates from less affluent backgrounds. They are only open to those who can afford to work for free and are a barrier to diversifying your workforce and to social mobility.

Building a high skill workforce

The ISE vacancy survey 2022 found that the graduate jobs market has recovered with the number of vacancies now 20% higher than in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic, and job vacancies for graduates will increase by more than a fifth (22%) in 2022 compared to 2021.

The same survey found that nearly half (48%) of graduate employers reported that they had received fewer applicants than this time last year. Nearly one in five employers (18%) noted that the quality of graduate applicants had dropped.

With skills shortages in a number of industry sectors, we need to work together to ensure that students can gain important employability skills.

I will not rehearse the importance of work-based learning opportunities as you will be as familiar with this as I am. You will also be aware of the impact of the pandemic on students’ ability to access opportunities to develop these skills. Offering good quality internships and work experience opportunities will enable us to build the high skilled workforce that we need for the future.

How you can get involved

When you are planning your internships and placement opportunities for 2022/23, please ensure that they meet the Work Experience Standard and if you can, aim to meet the Good Practice Guide with your vacancies.

You are also invited to demonstrate your support for good quality internships and work experience opportunities by endorsing the Work Experience Standard and Good Practice Guide

Scope of the Standard

We were aware that some types of work experience would be outside of the scope of the Standard although we would encourage organisations offering these types of work experience to consider adhering to the Standard as well.

Read more insight and advice on work experience

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