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Topic Title: Work experience for 15 year olds
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Created On: 06 November 2012 10:54 PM
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 06 November 2012 10:54 PM
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I have a 15-year-old nephew. He's enthusiastic about engineering and IT in particular. Next summer, his school organises work experience placements, but where he lives - in Somerset - there are few engineering companies of any size, and his school seems unable to help beyond pointing him towards McDonalds or Tesco.

He's asked if he can work with me in London where opportunities, in theory, should abound. But work experience placements for school-age students seem to be brokered solely by local councils. I can't find any organisations (including my own employer) that accept direct applications.

It seems a shame to let his enthusiasm and initiative go to waste, especially as he seems to have a certain amount of talent. Can anybody suggest a route for finding a London-based organisation he can work with for 2-3 weeks or so?

 07 November 2012 12:57 PM
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I fully understand your problem, but the situation may not be quite as it appears.

Most companies find it very hard to offer work experience, as it does take a reasonable amount of supervision and therefore distracts staff from the paying work. Organisations such as Connexions will promote themselves as the organisers of work experience (because that's how they get funded), and they will certainly do what they can, but they can only work with the companies who are willing to work with them - which tend to be the Tesco's etc who can gaurantee a reasonable number of places.

However, many smaller companies will take on the occasional work experience student as a favour, but do not wish to be seen as doing so otherwise they get inundated. We're pretty typical, we take on maybe 2-3 of these placements per year, but usually because the student is the child of an employee or of a close friend of an employee. I did take on someone unknown last year, but only because he wrote a blisteringly good application letter and was clearly desperately keen to take up engineering.

SO, unfortunately my best advice is to use any contacts you have, certainly these forums, and those of the other institutes, are a good place to try, but also Googling local IT companies and writing can work, expect to get no response to 99 letters but maybe the hundredth will work! He needs to get an excellent personal statement on one side of A4 which shows his interests and where he wants to go - including in particular anythign he has done in engineering or IT which shows a bit of "get up and go" above the ordinary.

You may have problems with a London based placement as the school normally want to visit the placement to check it's going ok, it's best to discuss this with the school.

I've managed to find excellent placements for my children at the same stage - one in marine biology three years ago and one in music later this year. In both cases I ignored the official systems but instead called in favours from aquaintencies in appropriate organisations. The school was delighted as it saved them the hassle of finding places - and they are still able to handle the H&S paperwork.

Good luck!


Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 12 November 2012 08:06 PM
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The work experience week for school kids is a complete farce. In my locality the only options are office work or retail unless you manage to find a placement yourself. To make matters worse all of the kids take their placement at the same time which adds further strain for employers.

I don't think that kids should be forced to have to participate in school work experience placements. There are plenty of opportunities during school holidays.
 30 November 2012 10:29 AM
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It was the same when I did mine ten years ago - I had the choice of letting the school sort something out but it was obvious that if I wanted to go somewhere useful and interesting to me, I needed to sort it myself.

I think the concept of doing work experience is a good one but it is difficult to make the system perfect I think.
 30 November 2012 02:02 PM
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Contacting as many employers as possible is the best way forward. If you leave it to the school you will end up with a boring week in a supermarket. My employer takes two school work experience pupils a year, it does put a bit more pressure on us but this year it went really smoothly as we had prepared some stuff for them to do beforehand and they were a nice couple of kids who were really keen to learn. Unfortunately I'm up in Manchester so that would be a bit of a trek for him!


'At some point we all must chose between what is right and what is awesome'
 05 December 2012 01:08 PM
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Just found this (released 9th November):
The research also revealed a mismatch in what parents and school teachers believe employers want from young recruits. Both parents and teachers ranked work and life experience low on a list of attributes they believe most important to employers recruiting from education. However, according to data from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, this attribute actually tops the list of qualities employers feel is most lacking in young recruits.

It's staggering how underrated the importance of work experience is. I've seen how school heads, students, and often parents, can become obsessed with grades, exam boards, BTEC vs GCSE, a percentage here, an acronym there. And because the (rather closed) world of education obsesses about this stuff they assume everyone else does too. Of course engineering employers want to see a level of specialist technical knowledge, but equally important (indeed more important for 16 year olds taking the apprentice route) is understanding the world of work, how to work with others, the importance of turning up on time, when to use your own initiative and when to ask for help etc etc etc.

The other side - even more relevent to the Year 10 experience week - is helping students decide what they want to do. Careers advisors, careers fairs, and similar will give a glowing picture, but only spending time in the work environment wil start giving an inkling of "is this somewhere I would feel happy working?".

Getting good exam results shows you can pass exams. Funnily enough, I don't often measure my staff on their ability to pass exams Yes, you need to know that stuff, but it's only part of the picture.

Sorry for rant, I feel better for that...

Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 11 January 2013 11:19 AM
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I have recently joined Parsons Brinckerhoff - based in Manchester. However, I am not sure if it would be of any interest but their Headquarters is in London near to Liverpool Street main line station. They have a variety of business units and so may be able to accomodate something, I know that definately in my office they are keen to help with work experience placements and to encourage pupils into engineering. The website is: there is a contact link on that page too.
Hope he manages to find something.
 07 May 2013 12:11 AM
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An ex-colleague was summoned to the Headmaster to talk about his son's prospects. He was frank and said that his son had no chance whatever in Academia However the boy had a good pair of hands and talent to match.

He had asked for the meeting because if the matter was left until the end of term then the Lad had no chance amongst the throng of school-leavers. He wanted the Father to withdraw the Lad from school and seek an apprenticeship while the market was still open.

It proved to be the best advice possible; the boy was indeed fortunate in his Headmaster. Fitting qualifications are not necessarily written on bits of paper.

Ken Green

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