Opinion

Let students experience the workplace early on so they can hone their skills

5 min read

30 July 2018

For all my disappointment in the government when it comes to Brexit, I would like to congratulate Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey for highlighting the importance of work experience and job placements to both young people and employers.

I agree with her view that teenagers should get jobs during the holidays to prepare them for the workplace. And she’s backed it up with a scheme to promote 20,000 placements on the government’s Find a Job website.

Having welcomed her to Pimlico when she was employment minister, McVey understands this issue and knows that only practical solutions will change things.

Since 1997, the percentage of young people working while studying has more than halved – another hangover perhaps from Labour’s “education, education, education” and “university at all costs” mantras?

It’s incredibly sad, because there are no losers from students having jobs as it gives them experience of the workplace and hones their work ethic that will benefit employers in the long-run.

Unfortunately, there is a decreasing lack of emphasis in making students think about getting a taste of being in the workplace, which comes from schools and the reduction in work experience.

I honestly can’t think of anything more damaging to a youngster’s future, than being starved of the opportunity to get real life experience. Work experience is an absolutely essential induction into the real world, especially when kids are sponges for information and can be moulded into employer-ready individuals!

It’s why I think compulsory short-term placements in businesses for 15-16-year-olds needs to be built back into the education system. It used to be the law, and it worked very well! But a bunch of busybodies have busted, what was, a working formula.

We need an urgent change to the system, where the next generation are getting into reputable businesses, rather than “working” in on-site school coffee shops and canteens.

And why wouldn’t businesses take them on? At Pimlico, we always welcome the chance to have an extra hand on projects!

Youngsters need to have meaningful interactions with companies if they are to begin their careers at full-speed. These placements don’t only help students to develop workplace skills, but give them a chance to discover a variety of careers they’ll love. Or, and this can be equally important, decide on things they don’t want to do.

Having the chance to learn early on, about the hard work that goes into making a pound or two, and experience the reality of responsibility and commitment, are lessons which can only be learnt from working a job.

The government and school bodies need to work together to encourage youngsters to take on work experience with the same vigour that is used to encourage top school grades.

We need to get kids into work, and go back to the old days of encouraging work experience along with Saturday and summer jobs. After all, employers place more emphasis on experience and a positive attitude than on the class of a degree.

I started doing work experience at the age of nine, and it was what gave me the drive to change my life around. I learnt skills that could never be found in a book, and understood my strengths and weaknesses very quickly.

I realised early on that school would never be where I’d make my bread and honey, so I took up an apprenticeship and never looked back.

The fact is, in life there is no substitute for experience and as history shows, youngsters who have committed themselves to part time jobs at school level, have ended up very successful! Good business people are made from experience, and the earlier they get it, the better stead they’re in.

I always tell youngsters they’ll be surprised by how many employers are willing to invest time in them if you show them how keen they are. However, schools need to give kids this chance to do so!

Simply, reputable businesses in every part of the country should have a legal responsibility to hire youngsters, and schools should have an obligation for kids to take on compulsory work experience for under 16s in the UK.

Perhaps McVey should take her mission to the next stage and have a word in the ears of her colleagues in the education department?