Virtual Work Experience Boom

We have all experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic but young people have been disproportionately affected, suffering major disruption to their education and reduced opportunities for in-person extra-curricular activities, including traditional careers-related learning activities. Students at secondary school and college have always felt the pressure when it comes to finding their career path and work experience plays a vital role in helping young people get that much-needed exposure to employers and the world of work to enable them to make more informed decisions about their future.

It will come as no surprise that lockdown, social distancing, and travel restrictions have led to many young people missing out on these opportunities. However, since the pandemic, Virtual Work Experience (VWEX) has become a lifeline to those looking for involvement in the professional world while adhering to all guidelines and staying safe.

Virtual Work Experience hasn’t just replaced many of these traditional in-person placements. In many locations and industries, the new virtual delivery model for work experience has transformed early outreach programmes for companies, allowing them to substantially increase the number of placements delivered and significantly improve their geographical reach. The infographic below shows the impact VWEX has had during the pandemic.

UK-wide, placements for work experience rose by 5,890 places in April 2020 – March 2021, compared to April 2019 – March 2020, signalling a healthy increase in the number of work experience opportunities available for young people in harder to reach regions while also enabling UK employers to widen their catchment area, regardless of their own physical location. What’s more, 71% of these new placements were virtual placements.

During the same period, over 3,000 more placements were delivered specifically in London, with almost 100% of these opportunities delivered through VWEX. Many of these London-centred placements were provided by Spotify, who increased the number of placements they offered in April 2020 – March 2021 compared with the previous year by a staggering 4,168%.

With many businesses obliged to furlough staff between April 2020 and March 2021, some industries were better placed than others to make the shift towards virtual outreach activities and pave the way for others to follow. Construction was one such industry, which not only continued to operate, but also embraced the potential of Virtual Work Experience to raise awareness among young people about the range of careers on offer. In fact, the construction industry provided the largest number of new placements in April 2020 – March 2021, with a total of over 1,800 work experience placements delivered during the height of the pandemic by the likes of Morgan Sindall Construction, BAM Construction and Align JV.

During the same period, we saw another surge in placements in the hospital and healthcare industry, with the NHS and various NHS Trusts delivering over 1,300 VWEX placements – both as part of their virtual Experience Nursing programme and to encourage careers in areas such as Pathology and other branches of medical science.

Despite very difficult trading circumstances during the pandemic, 250 young people from across the UK also gained meaningful work experience in the retail industry with employers, including Tesco, delivering placements virtually to ensure that COVID-19 restrictions did not act as a barrier to participation.

Before the pandemic, cost and location posed regular barriers to participation in work experience for many young people, especially those from harder to reach areas or from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Without the means or ability to easily partake in in-person work experience placements in large cities, many missed out on valuable opportunities to connect with leading employers or have meaningful experiences of the workplace.

With technology improving accessibility both for young people and employers alike, we are now able to offer Virtual Work Experience to anyone, regardless of their location, budget or background. With increasing numbers of young people from across the UK embracing the new opportunities available to them through Virtual Work Experience, employers in every industry across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also starting to realise how a more inclusive model for work experience has the added advantage of attracting a more diverse range of talented young people.

As restrictions ease and more workplaces open up to allow face-to-face interactions and in-person placements, we fully expect Virtual Work Experience to continue gaining ground and attracting more employers wishing to expand their talent searches. All the employers who hosted VWEX placements over the course of the pandemic have indicated that Virtual Work Experience will form a core part of their outreach activities going forwards, with most anticipating they will adopt a hybrid approach post-pandemic, which is heavily weighted towards VWEX. Our network of employers has already grown significantly in the last 18 months as more companies have come to appreciate the many benefits Virtual Work Experience offers.

There’s no doubt that the ‘new normal’ for delivering work experience has provided new opportunities for more meaningful engagement and connections between employers and young people than ever before. And we are committed to continuing to offer yet more work experience opportunities with yet more organisations and employers through VWEX in the future. With proof that high-quality immersive virtual workplaces are here to stay, we invite young people from state secondary schools and colleges across the UK to take advantage of the many work experience opportunities available, and we invite any companies considering hosting VWEX to contact us for more information.