Ros Davis, GO Wales Employability Advisor and Julie Bush, GROW Employability Advisor, from The Open University (OU) in Wales, share their views on the benefits of work experience placements for students, graduates and voluntary sector employers.
Employers put work experience at the top of their wish-list when they recruit graduates. How do students and graduates get the experience they need to get the jobs they want in a competitive market? Volunteering is one obvious suggestion – something which is central to how many third sector organisations operate. But are there other ways for students to get experience and find graduate-level jobs?
Through our GO Wales: Achieve through Work Experience project we help students develop their employability skills and improve their chance of getting a job when they leave university. Many of our younger students choose to study with us because they’re disabled or have caring responsibilities.
Through balancing these demands with part-time study, they also show things like drive and organisation; they’re accustomed to working at a distance, managing their own time and workloads.
Through GO Wales, employers give younger students a range of experiences including
- ‘Meet the Professional’ events – a short meeting between a student and a professional relevant to their interests. These meetings help them find out more about a sector or a specific role, as well as career paths and the skills they need.
- work shadowing – up to three days of unpaid work experience where the student observes someone in their role to understand how they do their job.
- work tasters – up to four weeks of unpaid work experience where the student uses their skills to help with projects and tasks, while also learning about work and the working environment through observation.
As well as benefitting the student, staff can get a fresh insight from an enthusiastic OU in Wales student and show that they’re a socially responsible employer. Managers also tell us that our students have given them a different perspective, and that the programme has helped diversify their workforce.
Candace did a virtual work experience placement within the marketing team at The Open University in Wales and describes it as ‘life-changing’.
‘I would describe GO Wales as the perfect opportunity for practical experience. I felt like I had the opportunity to learn some real tangible skills and, most importantly, I got a real confidence boost’ says Candace. ‘It’s the perfect opportunity for practical experience. The GO Wales team are dedicated, very supportive and inspiring.’
GROW – GRADUATE OPPORTUNITIES WORK EXPERIENCE
Even under normal circumstances finding work experience and employment can be hard, but the pandemic has made this much more difficult. In 2021 the Welsh Government via the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, set up The GROW – Graduate Opportunities Work Experience programme to respond to this. Through it, we offer additional support to graduates impacted by the pandemic and can give funding for work experience placements.
OU in Wales graduates often have a level of maturity and a wealth of life experience to bring to an organisation. With a diverse range of skills and background they introduce a unique perspective to any workplace.
GROW work experience placements can be remote, workplace-based, or blended. Graduates could support your organisation with a variety of projects, for example
- doing background research to scope the viability of a project
- leading on the delivery of a short-term plan
- developing marketing materials
- writing training material or online guidance
- organising events
‘Offering workplace experience and internships to university students and recent graduates has become an ever more important part of our volunteering offer as a service,’ said Ashley Comely, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Rhondda Cynon.
‘It connects us with passionate individuals keen to put their learning into practice for the benefit of our service users. We have also found that many of those on placements with us return as longer-term volunteers and even paid members of our team. Overall, the placements offer a significant return on investment’.
NARROWING THE SKILLS GAP
Our graduate work experience placements are structured, with clear aims and learning objectives. Graduates need to be supported and supervised, which can give staff at the host organisation a chance to practice their supervising and mentoring skills. Employing a graduate on a short-term basis also gives you an extra pair of hands and a chance to complete a piece of work you may not have had time to finish.
Ultimately these work experience programmes can help our economy by preparing students and graduates for the world of work and narrow the skills gap. We really encourage your organisation to be a part of this.
‘This of course runs alongside the immense benefits the opportunity provides to the students and graduates,’ continues Ashley. ‘I state this as someone who 16 years ago started in the Citizens Advice service on a student placement scheme’.
Coming from a third sector background, we both understand the importance and value of involving people with diverse needs in our work, and the passion and experience that the sector can offer. Providing a work experience placement to an OU in Wales student or graduate is a great way of doing this.
If you’d like to discuss how a potential work experience placement could benefit your organisation or need some more information, get in touch.
Ros Davis, Go Wales: Achieve Through Work Experience – firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Bush, GROW – Graduate Opportunities Work Experience – email@example.com