Bring back work experience to prepare the workforce of tomorrow

Date published: 29 April 2019

With schools across Greater Manchester barely a week in to the summer term, a leading business organisation has called on the Government to consider the reintroduction of work experience for all Key Stage 4 students.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says Government must recognise the roles small businesses play in local communities and the indispensable opportunities they can play in giving young people a taste of the skills needed to succeed in the workplace.

In 2012, compulsory work experience for students across England at Key Stage 4 was axed, making it harder for students to get their first taste of working and, conversely, for small firms to engage with schools and communities.

The principle of work experience is a crucial stage of learning for students, which is why it should be made available to all students in some form at schools, the FSB has said.

FSB Development Manager for Greater Manchester, Robert Downes, said: “We need to prepare young people for the workplace while at the same time ensuring we safeguard the future of the workforce across the country.

"The summer term was traditionally the time of year when most pupils would be looking forward to an introduction to the world of work, but now that’s largely gone, and work experience has become either the preserve of children with well-connected parents, or the few schools who still see it as important.”

FSB says its own research suggest small firms want to be able to take on more young people for work experience, but they need to have the support in place to liaise with schools to ensure both parties can make the most of the experience.

Downes added: “While the Combined Authority in Greater Manchester does some great work in this area with its Bridge programme, the Department for Education really needs to put more energy and resource in to driving this forward much more widely, some kind of funding stream would be particularly welcome by local authorities and schools keen to do more.

“Since the changes were made in 2012, it has become increasingly difficult for small businesses and young people to arrange work experience. Our research suggests around 40% of small firms already offer work experience, either as part of the recruitment process or through their community outreach, but now it’s time this is taken to the next level.

“Smaller firms are more likely to hire people from harder to reach backgrounds, which is why the reintroduction of work experience for pre-GCSE pupils would be a valuable leg up for students looking to experience work and small firms looking to plug their recruitment gaps in the future.

“It’s quite likely work experience would also help drive uptake of apprenticeships, the latest figures for which show the number of new starts is continuing to fall. A proper taste of the real workplace could address that.”

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