If your son or daughter is lucky enough to have an idea of what they want to be when they grow up, why not give them a chance to test the waters before they start studying?
What is work experience?
Many companies offer short-term positions to young people, often over the holidays, to give them an introduction to the real world of work. They come to work like any full-time employee for the duration of the contract, and are allocated junior-level tasks. The position may be unpaid or pay a nominal wage, depending on what the company can manage.
When can they do it
Some companies accept applications from school leavers who haven’t yet started studying, and some prefer them to already be studying in a particular field.
What are the benefits?
The benefits for the company are fairly obvious – they get an extra pair of hands over a potentially busy season at very little cost to them. It’s also an opportunity for them to observe and assess the skills and behaviour of a potential future employee.
The young person lucky enough to be offered the opportunity also gains in many ways, although some of them are less obvious. They have the opportunity to:
- Try out a potential career path to see if it appeals to them
- Get a feel for what it’s like to work full-time
- Find out what’s expected of them in a certain field or industry
- Develop new and useful skills relating to the field they’re interested in
- Get an understanding of what skills they still need to work on
- Meet influential people in the industry
- Develop the ability to navigate office politics
- Build their self-confidence
Work experience also looks really good on a CV, whether they’re applying at the company where they did work experience or elsewhere. It shows they’re motivated and responsible enough to hold down a job, especially if they have a great reference from the company they worked at.
If they make a good impression during their work experience, there’s a good chance they might even be offered a full-time job at the same company, either immediately or when they’re finished studying.
How to find work experience
There are several different ways to go about this, for example:
- Apply directly to the HR departments of companies in the industry
- Enquire at the college career advisor’s office
- Attend career exhibitions
- Look in the usual online places where jobs are advertised e.g. Careers24 or PNet
Also investigate roles advertised as “internships,” although these are often much more structured, for longer periods of time and require some knowledge of the field.
What to look out for
Even if your son or daughter only ends up making tea for everyone (which might be good for them anyway), it’s still an opportunity to get a foot in the door and impress the people who matter. Ideally though, they’ll get an opportunity to do some real work, and be allocated a supervisor or mentor to support them and help them make the most of it. The best way to find out about these kinds of high-value opportunities is word of mouth, so connect with others who’ve done work experience and ask their advice.
If they enjoy their work experience, you child will be doubly motivated to study hard, and if they don’t, at least the exercise will have saved everyone time and money, and they can then start to consider other options. It’s really a win/win situation all round.