50 Students from Lancashire Girls’ School Learn about the World of Work through Virtual Work Experience
Since the pandemic, many schools and colleges across the UK have struggled to provide young people with access to work experience – in part due to the physical restrictions imposed by the pandemic and also to the logistics of finding and organising suitable placements for pupils with employers based in the school’s geographical area.
In October 2021, state secondary school Penwortham Girls’ High School in Lancashire approached the charity Speakers for Schools for help in securing virtual work experience for up to 150 students in Year 10 for the summer term of 2021/2022.
As restrictions started to ease, the school wanted to give students the opportunity to find their own in-person work experience with local employers, but they still felt it was important to offer the option of virtual work experience for those who could not easily secure in-person placements in a suitable industry or who wanted to try doing a placement with more than one employer.
Working closely with the team at Speakers for Schools, John Ramsdale the Careers Lead at the school identified a selection of industries with growing skill gaps that would be of particular interest to his students – STEM, marketing and communications, and the digital sector.
Speakers for Schools then invited four organisations from their extensive employer network to host a series of online placements exclusively for students at Penwortham Girls’ High School. These interactive online placements took place in May 2022 and included sessions for 50 young women with the National Nuclear Laboratory, HR and recruitment specialists The Adecco Group, freelance CRM and loyalty marketeer Fine Tooth Comb as well as Montelle Bee, a digital entrepreneur and coach who specialises in helping individuals create content for social media to promote their personal brand.
All the placements were well-subscribed and many of the students opted to join more than one of the virtual placements. In each case, they met and engaged with senior staff from the employer organisations to complete industry-relevant tasks and learn about employment options in the industry.
Talking about their experiences, all the students were incredibly grateful for the opportunity that the virtual placements had provided and many – like Mia – enjoyed learning about different careers and meeting senior staff from the employer organisations.
“I had a lot of fun completing virtual work experience, especially learning about different fields of work. I appreciated the opportunity to meet some very successful people with interesting jobs.”
Completing their placements online rather than in-person placements did not detract from the enjoyment of the experience and students – like Eleanor – commented on how much they had enjoyed their placement and benefitted from taking part:
“I enjoyed being given the responsibility of completing tasks to a deadline and having to work as part of a team in the breakout rooms. Throughout this experience, I feel like my concentration skills have improved.”
Eleanor was not the only one to observe that she had developed her skill set, other students who took part – like Georgia – also commented on how her placement had given her a unique opportunity to develop new employability skills:
“I’ve got so much better at teamwork, and my communication and presentation skills have really developed. I can use these skills to my advantage in the future.”
In just one week, all the girls who participated in the online sessions were able to learn a lot about the world of work and about themselves. In fact, many of the participating students – like Harjeevan – commented on how much they had learnt in such a short space of time.
“I have learnt so much in just one week! Being a worker is much more demanding than being a student, but it’s also very rewarding.”
Other students – like Isabel – also observed how valuable the experience had been for gaining an insight into the world of work and new working practices:
“Completing the work experience online gave me a real insight into the world of work, particularly when so many people work from home. I enjoyed working alongside the staff we met, as well working with my peers.”
The students were not the only ones to comment on how positive they found these online placements, the employers who hosted the session were also very keen to acknowledge how beneficial they had found delivering the virtual work experience for discovering new talent.
Reflecting on their experience in delivering a two-day online placement for the National Nuclear Laboratory, Anna Byrne and Kieron Hersnip Early Career Advisors said:
“It was fantastic to see the high levels of engagement from those who attended the work experience and the energy they brought to the event.”
“We saw how opinions on the nuclear industry and its applications changed over the course of the two days with attendees developing their understanding of the positive contribution the industry makes to society. Their understanding of how the skills they are gaining through their studies can be beneficial in their future careers.”
This sentiment was echoed by Community and Social Impact Lead Seth Warren whose staff delivered The Adecco Group’s session to Penwortham Girls’ High School:
“The interaction with the students benefited me as much as it did them. This kind of opportunity to share our career paths not only plants a seed of possibility for kids, but also reminds us of the value of what we do every day.”
Virtual work experience continues to have an important role to play in enabling young people across the UK to access high-quality work experience in any and every industry that interests them, regardless of the young person’s geographical location or socio-economic background. Speakers for Schools is committed to helping young people from schools, colleges and Independent Training Providers to build their awareness of different career pathways and boost their confidence to consider a wider range of possible future careers.
If your school, college or Independent Training Provider would like to discuss how Speakers for Schools can support your students, please email our engagement team for more information.