Throughout the pandemic, almost a quarter of young people expressed that their largest concern was the negative impact lockdown has had on their education. With the same number of 18-year-olds being out of work at the end of 2020, this comes as no surprise.
The professional body Speakers for Schools have been matching students with employers for work placements since 2010. Prior to the pandemic, virtual work experience (VWEX) was a relatively new and unheard-of concept. Now, thanks to new data released from Speakers for Schools, we can see how young people and organisations have adapted during the ‘new normal’ to accommodate restrictions.
Numerous opportunities for young people have been taken away due to COVID-19, from important social milestones to being able to take their exams. Students from disadvantaged areas have been impacted the most, with 10% having their results downgraded due to the temporary programme for predicting grades.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, data was collected to gain an understanding of the impact virtual work experience has had on work placements across the UK. During those 12 months, England saw an extra 2,319 work placements completed despite the country being in lockdown for a large portion of this time. 100% of these placements were virtual.
Northern Ireland increased its placements on offer by 150, Scotland by 119 and Wales secured an extra 121 placements.
While England typically offers the highest portion of placements, VWEX has allowed students from any location across the UK to access these opportunities. One of the most notable pieces of data from this study was that 100% of those undertaking virtual work experience were students from state schools.
Virtual work experience is helping to bridge the gap between the more affluent families and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing equal opportunities to all.
Well-known organisations have jumped at the chance to have access to the best young minds possible. Spotify increased their placements from their London office by +4,168% and by utilising virtual work experience, these have been accessed by more young people than ever.
Alongside Spotify, big names Severn Trent Water and Cisco Systems increased their placement opportunities by +525% and +39%. Again, opting for most of these work experience placements to be completed virtually.
Technology has proven itself to be one of the most valuable assets during the pandemic. The use of the internet, alongside video calling and cloud software, has allowed numerous businesses to operate remotely and reduce harm to the organisations as much as possible.
Alongside this, schools and universities have been able to continue education remotely to ensure students are still learning. But one aspect that hasn’t been spoken about as much is virtual work experience. Young people who are stepping out of school and entering the professional world rely heavily on work experience.
Not only does work experience provide young people with a feel for the industry and allows them to ignite a passion or avoid the wrong choice in life, but it also helps them get ahead of the competition when it comes to applying for that dream role.
On top of this, valuable lessons can be learnt during school work experience. From workplace etiquette, job interview skills while also developing personally and professionally while interacting with professionals.
Work Experience in a Pandemic
For obvious reasons, this valued free work experience has been put on hold for so many across the country. To make matters worse for school leavers, the job market has become increasingly competitive.
Even the highest-scoring students can find it difficult to secure a role without relevant experience at the moment. At the same time, many young people start their working lives with part-time roles in retail and hospitality. This sector has been closed for a large portion of the last year and unable to provide these opportunities to so many young adults.
But thanks to technology, work experience has been able to adapt rapidly to accommodate these issues. Virtual work experience has risen in popularity not just for learners but employers as well. Increasing numbers of organisations are jumping at the chance to have a fresh talent for free or at a nominal cost, without having to physically accommodate them in the workplace.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the ‘new normal’ for work experience is removing the common barrier of location. For young people living in remote areas or without access to transportation, the thought of being able to work within certain industries or specific companies was seemingly impossible.
Now with the ability to take part in these weeks or months of work experience from your own home, these restrictions have been eliminated.
London has particularly benefited from this. In a city where accommodation is notoriously expensive, it was previously very unlikely that a school-leaver would have the funds to travel and stay there.
The obvious issue with this is that some of the UK’s biggest businesses operate from the capital. These organisations can provide some of the best experience while looking impressive on a C.V. They are also more likely to have the resources for proper training for those taking part in work experience.
Now they can take on anyone around the UK and some are even offering international placements. This gives access to so many more while allowing organisations to take on the best candidates.
Work Experience Vs Training & Education
One of the most prominent benefits of work experience is simply a better insight into a specific industry.
In a world where many of us need to choose our career paths in our teens, the decision can seem daunting and a substantial waste of time, money and effort should the wrong choice be made.
Before choosing a career, pursuing apprenticeships, college training, university degrees or any other form of formal education, work experience, careful consideration needs to be taken.
There is no better insight into a career path than experiencing it first hand. Therefore, undertaking work experience is one of the most important decisions an aspiring professional can make.
It can help avoid disaster or instil confidence in a decision.
So, What’s Next?
As the UK begins to ease lockdown restrictions, many aspects of our lives are expected to return to normal.
Prior to the pandemic, there was only a small percentage of virtual work experience available. Little practice in this area led to preconceptions that it may not be useful for employers or learners.
However, the success of these virtual placements and barriers removed to allow access to all has proven success around the country. Work placements that are open for the period when lockdown is predicted to completely end still have over a third advertised as virtual.
It looks like virtual work experience is here to stay. The situation the pandemic has forced young people into has created a new way to experience the working world without restrictions.