Adapting Work Experience for the Digital Age: A New Approach

updated on 27 June 2024

Remember in our teens when we had a week off from school to experience 'work'?

Mine was at the local leisure centre and I remember the two tasks I had each day; cleaning the changing rooms and showers, and restocking the vending machines with chocolate and crisps, the latter was pretty awesome. 

Work experience has long been a cornerstone of preparing young people for their future careers (as vending machine fillers!). It was a bridge between education and the working world, allowing us to learn practical skills, understand practices, gain insights into various industries, and build valuable networks.

But there's no getting away from the fact that the traditional model of work experience—where students physically spend time in workplaces—faces challenges in today’s rapidly evolving environment.

Why Is Work Experience Important?

We didn't know it at the time, but there were so many benefits to our week of mopping and stocking, okay maybe not from those tasks, but a valuable week in an environment your learner really wants to experience has great benefits:

💪 Skill Development

1. Work experience exposes learners to real-world scenarios, enabling them to apply theoretical knowledge in practical settings.

2. Skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and time management are honed during work placements. 

3. Learning from experienced professionals fosters a deeper understanding of industry-specific practices.

🤩 Career Exploration:

1. Work experience allows students to explore different career paths. It helps them make informed decisions about their future.

2. Exposure to various roles and industries helps clarify interests and aspirations.

🤝 Networking Opportunities:

1. Building professional networks is essential for career growth. Work experience provides a chance to connect with mentors, colleagues, and potential employers.

2. Networking can lead to job referrals, recommendations, and valuable insights. 

Why the decline in Work Experience? The challenges schools, students, and businesses face:

According to a YMCA report, 64% of young people in the UK face challenges accessing work experience. Despite being the most academically qualified generation ever, they encounter difficulties transitioning from education to employment.

🤦‍♀️ Limited Resources: Many schools struggle due to staffing shortages and funding constraints, impacting their ability to offer work experience programs.

⌛ Time Constraints: Schools have limited time available for careers guidance, making it challenging to dedicate sufficient time to work experience placements.

🔍 Sourcing Placements: Finding suitable work experience placements, especially in specific sectors, can be difficult. Not to mention the ongoing vetting and risk assessing etc!

It's having a knock on effect; employers are finding students unprepared for the workplace and lacking in essential soft skills; young workers are paid less than previous generations and increasingly find themselves in insecure jobs, including zero-hour contracts and gig economy roles.

To tackle these issues, efforts should focus on equipping your young people with employability skills, providing meaningful work experience, and offering future relevant careers support.

The Changing Landscape: The Impact of Remote Work and Digital Skills

The world of work has transformed significantly, especially due to the rise of remote work and digitalisation. 

The pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work. Companies now hire talent from diverse locations, and employees collaborate virtually. Young people need to adapt to this new reality. Digital communication, time management, and self-discipline are crucial skills for remote work.

Digital literacy is no longer optional—it’s essential. Proficiency in tools like video conferencing, project management software, and online collaboration platforms is vital. Employers seek candidates who can seamlessly navigate digital environments. 

Recommendations: Here's our 4 Alternatives to Traditional Work Experience 🚀

1. Online Learning:

Encourage students to explore online courses related to their interests. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Future Learn offer a wealth of options.  Learning online enhances digital skills and some provide certificates.

Some of the best online learning opportunities we share  with young people daily  
Some of the best online learning opportunities we share with young people daily  

2. Volunteering:

Volunteering remotely or locally allows young people to contribute while learning. They can assist non-profits, organise virtual events, participate in community enhancement, or participate in work related projects.

More than 80% of volunteers report that their mental health and sense of well-being have improved through volunteering.

Some of the best volunteer opportunities we share  with young people daily  
Some of the best volunteer opportunities we share with young people daily  

3. Bootcamps & Workshops:

Bootcamps provide focused training in specific areas (e.g., coding, digital marketing, media, data analysis). They offer practical skills in a condensed timeframe. Consider bootcamps as an alternative to traditional work placements. Workshops are generally shorter less intense and can be a great place to start.

Some of the best bootcamps and workshops we share with young people daily  
Some of the best bootcamps and workshops we share with young people daily  

4. Digital Credentials:

Online badges and micro-credentials can validate specific skills. Students can earn them by completing short courses or projects, and often forms part of a larger suite of learning that progresses towards expertise and demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning.

Some of the best digital credentials we share with young people daily  
Some of the best digital credentials we share with young people daily  

While traditional work experience remains valuable, parents and teachers should embrace these alternative pathways. By combining online learning, volunteering, bootcamps, and digital credentials, young people can thrive in the digital age. Let’s equip them with the skills needed to succeed in a dynamic and interconnected world! 

Feel free to share this blog with parents, teachers, and anyone interested in empowering the next generation. If you’d like further elaboration on any section, just let me know 😊

As always, reach out if we can help with anything 

You've got this 😎✌️

Gem HallettmiFuture Founder | @miFutureHQ

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