I heard about the British Youth Council from one of my colleagues at The Careers & Enterprise Company, who offered me the opportunity to get involved in their latest project on improving the work experience in UK. I was thrilled to learn more about the work of the British Youth Council, which is to empower young people across the country to use their voices.
At The Careers & Enterprise Company, our mission is to inspire and prepare young people for the world of work, by building networks, backing the Gatsby Benchmarks and supporting Careers Leaders. For these reasons, and also because not long ago I was a young person experiencing or looking for work experience myself, it only felt natural for me to want to offer my skills and expertise to this project.
I worked with five other members in the Action Group, between the ages of 16-25. They had the same purpose: to find new ways to improve how the work experience is delivered by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) across the UK. The way we did this was by designing a toolkit for SMEs, called ‘Unleashing the potential of work experience: A guide for SMEs’, explaining what good quality work experience is, what young people expect from it and the ways SMEs can deliver it. Each member of the Action Group brought a different set of skills and experiences to the table which really made a difference and added a personal touch to this toolkit.
As I currently work in the Marketing team at The Careers & Enterprise Company – and am being trained to become a graphic designer, the idea of designing a new publication really made me enjoy the time spent brainstorming design options and I was more than happy to offer my expertise in this area.
We attended a three-day residential where we approached multiple ideas, researched what work experience currently looks like and drafted the content for the future toolkit. We also played social games, to get to know each other and to learn how to work together effectively.
In State of the Nation 2019 – a recent report from The Careers & Enterprise Company, it celebrates the improvement of careers education and highlights that at least 2 million young people are now receiving an encounter with an employer every year. These are brilliant outcomes for young people across England – but we know there is still work to do.
During the residential, we had a video call with Emelia Quist from Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) who told us more about the barriers SMEs face when it comes to offering work experience to young people. These included time, lack of financial resources and a general misunderstanding of what it is needed from them in order to provide the best quality work experience.
Taking this information into account when creating the toolkit, we incorporated statistics, myth busters and case studies showcasing personal opinions from young people who had previous good and bad work experiences.
We also had the chance to speak with and interview other young people from across the country, in a workshop that we have done since the residential. Hearing from young people gave us a much deeper insight into the way they perceive work experience and how SMEs can further help with careers guidance.
We focused on finding five main areas that will guide SMEs to offer better quality work experience. These included:
- Preparation and planning
- An enabling and inclusive environment
- Skills development and support
- Feedback and evaluation
Additionally, we included a bank of resources that SMEs can use, such as a feedback form, a daily planner for the young person, questions the employers should ask themselves when engaging with young people – but also practical actions to support them.
The toolkit, in its final form, aims to demystify careers education and guidance for SMEs. It also aims to offer some guidance and advice to employers who are willing to offer work experience to young people across the country.
I believe this project has the power to make a difference in the way employers see and deliver work experience in the UK. I am certain of this because this toolkit has been created by a group of motivated young people who are extremely passionate about their futures. I was extremely lucky to meet so many young people who want to experience the real world of work, gain new skills, knowledge and become better versions of themselves. I also hope that SMEs will find in this toolkit the support they need in order to offer better quality work experience in the future.
It’s been a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people, who have the same mission, which is to improve the culture of work. It also made me realise how important it is for young people to use their voices, their experiences and to fight for every change they want to see in the world.
I’ve learnt how to communicate better and engage with different people with so many opinions, views and experiences by stepping out of my comfort zone and participating in this journey. The members of the British Youth Council really made sure we all felt respected, valued and safe during this project which I think is very important and it really helped us when putting together the best version of this toolkit.
Following consultation with young people, the Work Experience Action Group has launched their Work Experience Toolkit for small and medium businesses in England. The newly formed focus group has created a series of resources which are due to be distributed amongst Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and young people’s hubs outlining what quality work experience looks like and how to make it accessible to young people.
The group is made up of 6 young people aged 16-25, who have a range of experiences with work and education. The group is bound together by their commitment to ensuring young people have access to quality work experience opportunities. The report has been made possible by a grant from the People’s Postcode Trust: a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Through consultation with other young people and with support from The Careers & Enterprise Company, the Work Experience Action Group developed 5 aspects that make up a quality work experience placement, for SMEs to consider. These areas included preparation and planning, creating an enabling and inclusive environment, skills development, feedback and evaluation and follow-up.
The project was established following the Youth Select Committee’s inquiry into access to work experience last year. The committee of young people found there was a multitude of inequalities that affected young people’s access to good quality work experience across the UK. It also concluded young people from a rural area or from a low socio-economic background are amongst those that were facing a disproportionate lack of access. Employers from SMEs also expressed how they are willing to give good quality work experience but find that they are lacking the comprehension to construct an accessible environment to support all young people.
Commenting on the toolkit, Amanda
Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the British Youth Council, said: “We know there
are unacceptable levels of inequality affecting young people’s access to good
quality work experience across the UK.
“The Work Experience Action Group have developed a toolkit which will enable more employers to not only make their work experience placements more accessible but will also ensure they can provide high quality opportunities.”
Creating Work Experience hubs for 11-18 year olds was one of the top issues in the UK Youth Parliament’s 2017 Make Your Mark ballot. The ballot saw almost 950,000 young people vote on issues that mattered most to them.