In schools, colleges and Uni, everyone talks about the importance of work experience. So, in today’s careers blog we examine what it is, why you need it and where you can find it. Read on …

Work experience (wex) is the temporary experience of work which, in practice, can be anything from a morning shadowing someone to a full 12 months gap year or industrial placement.

The key is usually whether you get paid or not: unpaid experience of work is usually referred to as volunteering and there are all sorts of reasons why organisations don’t always pay. The important thing is simply to remember why you are doing it and so, if it is just for the money, volunteering won’t be the answer.

What are the benefits of work experience?

There are broadly two types of work experience: General and Sector specific.

General – This will give you experience in a workplace and examples of the employability skills you will gain can include being punctual, suitably dressed for work, polite, provide evidence of appropriate behaviour for a work environment, interpersonal skills, respect for others, being reliable, able to follow rules, and if necessary, be flexible. Most likely you will be paid for this type of wex.

Sector specific – This is very much focussed on a particular industry or career sector, although you may later decide that you don’t want to pursue a particular career path as a result. It is extremely relevant to what you think you would like to do in the future and can be so important to your plans that you may have to abandon any hope of an income and volunteer to get this relevant experience instead.

Why would you want to do work experience?

The money – General wex is typically paid employment and therefore you might simply be doing it for the money. To an extent it therefore doesn’t really matter what type of wex this is. You will still get employability skills from it as a by-product of the main motivator.

Life skills for yourself – In addition to getting paid, you may choose general wex because of the considerable life skills it can give you. These will stand you in very good stead for the future, but some wex will offer better life and employability skills than others so choose wisely. Examples might include being given responsibility, such as holding keys to lock up a shop. Or having to get to the job on your own, navigating busy roads and travelling independently by public transport.

Life skills for your applications – Whether for your CV when applying for a job, or for your Personal Statement when applying for Uni, general wex will give you plenty of evidence to show that you are a mature individual who is able to cope with the demands of the career path you are applying for.

This is important as Unis are increasingly checking for this at interview. And even the most junior of apprenticeships ask potential applicants to consider how they might get to the workplace each day – and more. Whilst the rise in the number of higher and degree apprenticeships – often with up to a year away at Uni – means that corporate employers are also taking a particular interest in life skills, even for seemingly local apprenticeships.

Evidence for your applications – Sector specific wex will provide evidence of your genuine enthusiasm for a role or academic course. It will enable you to impress in your application and wow when face-to-face with an interviewer. There could be literally hundreds of applicants behind you in the queue for a role or degree, so having relevant experience could make a real difference between getting an offer and not.

Transferable skills – Whilst you may not need every skill that you generate as the result of general or sector specific wex, these will all add to the arsenal of hard, soft and employability skills on your template CV. Some you will need for specific applications and some won’t be so relevant. However, they are all likely to come in handy as transferable skills for you at some point, so worth making a note.

Try it out first – Sector specific wex will also give you experience of a career or industry that you had been considering. By gaining this early experience, you will find out if it is still something that you would like to pursue. Better to try it out before committing to a 3-year degree course or apprenticeship than discover the hard way once you’ve started on either of these career paths.

Where can you get work experience?

General wex – This will most likely be paid employment, therefore you can get general wex from part-time jobs such as a paper round, washing up in a local restaurant or stacking shelves at the supermarket. However, there are also opportunities to work on a more ad hoc basis, such as during the holidays or in seasonal work such as at the Post Office at Christmas or picking crops in the summer. They will be advertised in the media, on social media, on Careersnearhere, and on the websites of local employers

Sector specific wex – As this is highly relevant to the role or academic course that you are considering, you will most likely get this experience from volunteering with specialist organisations (whether applying for roles advertised as above, via local volunteering organisations, or by approaching relevant employers).

Going beyond this and getting paid for high profile sector specific wex – perhaps on the summer work experience placement scheme of a major accountancy company or law firm – is a massive achievement. There are even graduates who do not have this. And you will have had to show considerable abilities in getting on a corporate programme in the first place, let alone all the skills you will have achieved from the actual experience. These roles are advertised in the same way as general wex, above. And your careers adviser will have details.

A mixture – There will also be activities which provide general employability / life skills as much as sector specific skills – depending on what career path you are considering. These can include unpaid extra-curricular commitments such as cadets, school drama performances, Duke of Edinburgh awards and sports teams.

However, you can also get this mix of skills from carefully selected sector specific wex without going to a PLC. Finding a holiday job with a smaller, local business in a relevant sector can add huge value to your CV and give you a wide range of experiences to talk about at interview.

And finally …

In theory, you will already have a template CV listing all the skills you have got from your extensive paid and unpaid work experience. Even if you haven’t, you will most likely already have some form of general wex, perhaps from a school-arranged week in the summer of Year 10?

The trick is to now focus on / identify what you want to try next in life – whether that is a particular career sector or academic course – and seek out sector specific wex to boost your chances of getting offered either an apprenticeship, or place at the Uni you want as first choice. No matter how brief, see if you can arrange something that will be of use to you. It will be worth it.

Careersnearhere: It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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