For firms looking to increase their level of community involvement, local schools are an ideal starting point. Whether through a work experience programme, a mentoring scheme or through ad-hoc involvement in workshops and presentations, participation can be tailored to fit the firm’s resources. What’s more, the advantages to businesses can reach beyond simply raising the firm’s profile.
Work experience: forget the clichés
The concept of ‘work experience’ has taken something of a knock over recent years – thanks in no small part to controversy over the element of compulsion attached to ‘community work placements’. Then there’s the stereotypical image of a work experience placement; – a bored teenager who spends an entire week shuttling between the photocopier and the kitchen. Against this backdrop, some employers may be inclined to give the whole idea a wide berth.
Getting back to what placements should be about, they provide young people with a valuable first taste of the world of work and can give useful pointers for possible future career paths. They are also enshrined in the curriculum and generally take one of two forms: a block work experience scheme where a whole year group spends a designated one or two weeks on placement, or an extended programme; a more recent arrangement whereby students spend one or two days on a placement over a longer period of time, often as part of a vocational course.
To avoid the ‘endless photocopying’ scenario, employers should consider firstly what exactly they have to offer. Is there the time and the manpower available to devote to a meaningful programme? Will it cause disruption? Will a student be able to get to grips with what the firm does – and take away something useful from their time with you?
Other ways to get involved
Formal work experience isn’t the only way for businesses to connect with schools. Could one of your recent projects form the basis of a case study? Is there someone in your multi-lingual client service team capable of livening up a French lesson? How would you enjoy meeting your developers of tomorrow at a school coding club meeting? What practical insights can you offer staff as well as pupils? Contact your local school to find out how you and your resources may be put to use. There is also the possibility of offering support and mentoring through becoming a Young Enterprise volunteer – a national charity that aims to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Far from being ‘CSR-by-numbers’, involvement with schools can be a genuine opportunity to create an impression – not just with the students themselves but also with teachers, parents and your community at large. And of course, impressions count: by providing youngsters with a positive experience you are indirectly setting out your stall as an attractive destination for tomorrow’s recruits.
There can be organisational benefits too. The process of sitting down and putting together a work experience programme can be a useful exercise in itself. What are your organisation’s core objectives? Where should a newcomer spend time to get to grips with what your firm actually does? Why do you do things in a certain way? Among the to-and-fro of office life, sometimes we all need a reason to encourage us to think about what’s important.
Then there’s the process of implementing the programme. When it’s done in the right way (i.e. not piling extra responsibilities onto already overworked staff), overseeing and evaluating work experience students can be a useful opportunity for employees to develop their managerial skillsets.
Safety first: Planning for a work experience programme involves considering the risk of injury to the students as well possible risks to employees and visitors to the premises. You are likely to be covered by your existing provisions but it is important to notify your insurers of your plans before the programme commences. Where you or your employees visit schools – to attend workshops or to give presentations for example – most activities are likely to be covered by insurance for schools – although once again it is important to check the precise position with your own providers.
To find out more about how to get involved in working with schools local education business Link consortia and the National Careers Service are also useful sources of information.