Student Voice: Quest for Work Experience
Enjoy a career conversation with Brittany—a teenager, who is discovering there’s an unclear path to her future, as well as that of her classmates. ‘Student Voice’ is an important concept but one which is often overlooked. Is it not better to understand the unique perspectives of students rather than make decisions without first consulting with the very people those decisions impact most?
It is common for most students, in England and elsewhere, to have a work experience placement of some description before finishing their (GCSE) exams. For me, it was 21 years ago and my work experience lasted two weeks. My conversation with Brittany is part of her one-week work experience placement, and provides the perfect opportunity to hear some ‘Student Voice’.
A conversation with Brittany:
Brittany: At 14 going on 15 I am starting to have an idea of what I want to do, but I don’t really know how to make it happen, or what grades are needed.
I would love to have a job within the acting industry. The only problem with that is it is such a hard profession to get into, and I am expected to do it off my own back.
Teachers are in control and we are so dependent on everyone around us in school, but once we’ve left school we are on our own. As students we are not helped, or given advice about the career options we have, or all the paths we could possibly take regarding our preferred profession. This makes it that little bit harder to be in a job you enjoy and are comfortable with.
We also have to choose what GCSE subjects we want to do at school in Year 8 (2nd year in secondary school), and how that may link in with what we want to do when we are in college and beyond. Hardly any 12/13 year old knows what they want to do in the future. They haven’t had enough experience of secondary school and the various lessons before having to make a choice. Literally, kids have a year of different subjects before they have to start making decisions about their future. Is that really enough time to make them sort of choices that could impact your life?
Iain: It sounds like what is really required is more support for teachers from people in industry, or central support from career advisors and what life in the workforce could look like. Do your close friends have an idea as to what career they would want?
Brittany: I have a couple of close friends that have a clear idea of what career they want. One of them loves animals and wants to make a career out of it. She would prefer to work in a zoo or a wildlife park rather than jobs such as a domestic vet. She has been looking at opportunities in the US as they have a wider range of options. This is going to be something she enjoys and will want to work hard at.
Another one of my close friends wants to be a social worker as she has always wanted to help people, especially children. She has always been certain that is what she wants to do. The lessons that she chose in school compliment and support the job she wants in the future.
But not everyone is lucky enough to have a lesson that suits them and will have to wait until college for a course they want that better suits an actual career. Both of my friends have managed to secure a work experience that links in with what they want to do.
Iain: My company, Promethean, is an international business and I always tell people that this can be very different to working for a business that only trades locally, or within the UK. Dealing with different time zones, languages and cultures are things that maybe wouldn’t be a consideration for some businesses. International travel is another aspect. This is not for everyone, but do any of these things interest you?
Brittany: International travel does appeal to me. I don’t necessarily want to work in an international business though. I think it would be a good experience to work with all different types of cultures and religions, people in different time zones and people that speak different languages. I think this would be the best aspect of working in an international business. Travel could open up different opportunities in different countries, and some might appeal to me.
Iain: So opportunities in different countries interest you?
Brittany: Yes. Possibly living and working in America is something that interests me. In order to access the right opportunities, I would be prepared and happy to move abroad.
Iain: In your opinion, will one week in a single business and a single department be enough to help you understand the workplace?
Brittany: In my opinion a week isn’t enough because just as you are settling in you have to leave. One single workplace isn’t enough either, you need to have an inkling of what you want to do, so you can get the grades you need in the subjects you need. You need to know what you definitely don’t want to do, and what doesn’t appeal to you, so you don’t waste time and you don’t end up doing something you dislike.
Iain: Would you consider proactively looking for additional placements in your holidays, especially if it was to gain experience in something you realised you really wanted to do?
Brittany: If I could gain experience in something that could be a possible job in the future I would do it in my own time. I know other people that would as well. Now at school we are being told the more experience we can get the better. We should be doing everything we can do to boost our chances of getting a job.
Iain: Would your answer change if you were paid, even if it was only a nominal amount?
Brittany: Even if being paid was a nominal amount, teens now need to learn how to manage money; it is a big and important part of life. Having your own money makes you more independent and careful about what you are spending. It also helps you understand how much you need to be earning so you can have the things you want.
Iain: So rather than looking at money as a requirement, because you do not want to work for free, in order to gain experience, you see that as a learning opportunity to better manage your money and prepare you for adult life.
A lot of emphasis is also now being put on what you can do with what you know, not just what you know. For someone who may be entering employment under a vocational scheme in approximately 1 year, do you understand that concept, and do you feel ready?
Brittany: In school we are taught all this information, but no one tells us how we can apply it to real life. So when we’re taught, and it’s not in an engaging way, and we don’t know why it will be useful—we switch off.
Iain: Agreed. Learning should be grounded with some relevance, where at all possible. That could be the role that figures from industry play by coming into schools to talk to students. Brittany, is your working life something you worry about?
Brittany: Working life isn’t something I worry about; I look forward to it. It’s a sense of independence and being treated like an adult. The only thing that I find worrying is ending up in a career that I enjoy and suited to do. There is also the pay and how easy it is to find a job. It is a big change going from the rules at school to the freedom of a job. Even being treated your age makes a huge difference. If we are treated like children and given everything on a plate we will never work towards what we want. In school we are handed everything. That is a difference between school and work life.
Iain: What other comments would you make about work experience?
Brittany: Schools need more funding from the government to have people come in and talk about the careers. Primary schools have it so why is it different for secondary schools? Even half an hour could inspire a student to look further into that job.
Iain: If any other students are reading this, what other advice would you give?
Brittany: We study Citizenship and Citizenship should be about life skills. Instead it is about the Global Community, Power, Politics and the Media and Rights and Responsibilities. In my opinion it should be how to apply for jobs, how to set up bank accounts and how to mortgage a house. These would be better life skills in my opinion; ones that could be more useful.
The only other advice I would give is to think about your work experience more carefully before you pick something that will just be an easy week, or a waste of a week. It is an important part of school and not everyone has the opportunity to go on a work experience—and many would do anything to get that chance.
I am hopeful that teachers, parents, employers and other students take something from the interview, even if it is only confirmation that they are dealing with the same questions and issues, but hopefully a few people will act on it and make changes. Work experience may be offering a first placement to somebody, or tweaking existing schemes to better suit students, or maybe opportunities to get into schools and colleges to talk to students more. Ultimately, these students will be entering the workforce, and every stakeholder wants them to be prepared as best they can be for success. As parents and employers, we need to ensure this is done right!
About the author: Iain Home is a UK father, student of education trends, and an international marketing strategist for Promethean. Iain is also a regular columnist at Connect Learning Today.