For many, it is the first taste of life outside the classroom, and gives them valuable insights into what the world of work entails.
However, if the Government has its way and implements plans to scrap compulsory ‘work based learning’ for GCSE Key Stage 4 pupils aged 14-16, it is highly likely that many young people on the cusp of adulthood will no longer get the chance to experience work at such an important age.
The idea is to focus instead on longer internships for older students but the Forum thinks this is a backwards step and should not be an either-or question. Indeed, the earlier the better should be the mantra as far as work experience is concerned.
Industry leaders commonly report that many school and university leavers lack even the basic skills their businesses require and need constant supervision when they start work. New recruits lacking sufficient experience undoubtedly find the workplace even more of a daunting experience.
Even punctuality, appearance, manner, and attitude –fundamental basics which school leavers need – can be found lacking. In this sense there’s a clear case for more work experience but delivered better, not less of it.
The Forum also believes schools need to work better at teaching the basics of employability skills to school children in the classroom. Making youngsters aware of what is expected of them in a work environment before they start makes much more sense than expecting employers to pick up all of the slack.
Achieving this would mean increasing the number of new starters with more complete skills sets able to hit the ground running – and less costly and labour-intensive requirements for small firms.
Clearly, if small businesses in the private sector are to lead job creation and tackle unemployment, as they are being tasked with doing, they need to be able to access a stronger labour force that includes young, ambitious and talented individuals who know what it takes to thrive in the workplace.
While it’s true that the present work experience system could be made more effective – not least by removing much of the red tape associated with it – it can still be one of the best ways for new generations of workers to learn the basics. The Government should not forget that.