Why virtual work experience placements really work
Originally featured in the Liverpool Law Society magazine in November 2021
Conditions since March 2020 inevitably reduced the opportunities for young people to engage with employers through traditional work experience. But whilst the pandemic created many challenges, it also acted as a catalyst for change. Virtual Work Experience is one innovation that, born out of necessity, now looks set to transform the way many leading employers will structure their early outreach activities going forwards.
Why the shift in thinking?
In a world where all UK businesses face the combined long-term effects of Brexit, an ageing population, and the current pandemic, there is mounting pressure on employers to assure the ongoing quality and diversity of their early talent pool.
Increasingly, organisations are recognising the need for a more inclusive approach to strengthen their early talent pipeline. But achieving this in practice is no easy task. Particularly if employers wish to target young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who are typically the hardest to reach.
Making work experience more accessible
Speakers for Schools is a leading youth social mobility charity, founded in 2010 by ITV’s Political Editor Robert Peston, which aims to raise the career ambitions among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK and provide the necessary inspiration, experience, and networking opportunities for them to succeed.
They work with a fast-growing network of over 3,000 state secondary schools and colleges throughout the UK, which means partnering with the charity to offer Virtual Work Experience represents an easy way for employers to extend their geographical reach and expand their search to include a more diverse range of 14-19-year-olds.
It also represents an easy first step for any young person to take. A step with no prohibitive costs – for schools or parents – and an incredibly simple application process. And because it is so easy both to apply and attend, placements are always very well-attended with very low drop-out rates.
More reach means more impact
Any and every industry and sector can benefit from offering Virtual Work Experience, especially those – like the legal sector – that usually struggle to attract young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Speakers for Schools’ network of employers has grown from 70 to currently over 700 – as hundreds of companies, including organisations like the Liverpool Law Society, Bentley Motors, TalkTalk, The Adecco Group, and AutoTrader, have come to appreciate the many benefits virtual placements offer.
Early adopters like Morgan Sindall Construction have credited Virtual Work Experience as increasing the number of placements they could offer in a week and widening their reach, not only to more schools, but also to increase engagement with females and ethnic minority communities – both key demographics that Morgan Sindall Construction is keen to attract.
Other employers like the British Army credit Virtual Work Experience as providing a more effective way to engage with young people with a real interest in a particular specialism – such as cyber security – than an in-person event at a single school.
With over 56,000 free virtual placements available across the UK throughout the last year, Speakers for Schools increased the success rate for those applying and partnered with more ‘high-need’ schools, including those located in more geographically remote areas.
This meant tens of thousands more young people aged 14-19 were able to benefit in a way that would not have been possible previously. Omaima, a 17-year-old student from Birmingham, who took part in one of our placements focused on the green economy last April said:
“Many young students have been prevented from doing in-person work experience due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but virtual work experience is equally as good.”