With lockdown easing and normality just across the horizon, businesses and employees everywhere are adjusting to going back to the office and working out the new balance of remote working. Those in education are doing just the same. Most learning will be returning to pre-COVID conditions. However, Speakers for Schools has recently released data that suggests not everything needs to remain in person.
We all remember doing work experience while at school, but the opportunities have evolved dramatically since many of us were in education. More frequently, school leavers are choosing work experience placements within industry-leading companies instead of your typical local shop or school, like so many of us previously did.
There are numerous benefits of undertaking a work experience placement. It isn’t just another tick on the syllabus for teachers anymore and increasing numbers of students are taking it upon themselves to complete placements, without it being a requirement for school modules.
As it has been with so many other elements of life, COVID-19 seemingly threw a spanner in the works for work experience. But Speakers for Schools overcame this and exceeded the expectations of so many.
Rising Numbers of Virtual Work Experience Placements
In the last decade, virtual versions of working and schooling were not an unfamiliar idea but were relatively untouched by the majority. The pandemic caused us to fully rely on the digital world almost overnight.
The not-for-profit organisation Speakers for Schools, founded by Robert Peston in 2011, have matched thousands of students with their ideal placements and quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’. Virtual work experience has understandably had a significant rise since the start of the first lockdown, the exact numbers have now been released.
Between April 2020-March 2021, a comparison was made between the same period the previous year.
Across the UK, every nation saw a rise in placement numbers, both virtual and in-person, despite the common misconception that opportunities such as these were to be placed on hold.
England had an increase in placements of over 13,000 compared to pre-pandemic life. A staggering 91% of these placements were online. 70% of placements in Wales were virtual work experience, with a rise in numbers of over 6,000. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland saw very similar numbers.
Why Virtual Work Experience Is Such a Huge Success
Aside from the obvious positive that virtual work experience brings of being able to follow lockdown and social distancing rules, there have been numerous positives from this increasingly popular placement opportunity.
Students in remote locations have often been victim to a lack of local placement opportunities. Especially for those who are not located near a big city, the work experience positions are very limited.
Students from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to have the resources to commute, via public transport or their own vehicles. If the dream placement is a considerable distance from their home, they may be able to afford temporary accommodation during their placement.
Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are unlikely to be able to do this and are therefore incredibly limited with their choices. Virtual work experience allows more opportunities for these students, without the added cost of commuting. 100% of virtual work placements in the study were undertaken by students from state schools.
Northern Irish students have often been restricted with their work experience placements, with the most sought-after opportunities being in Britain. Virtual work placements eliminate any issues with the location.
Now that so many organisations have moved to a fully remote working environment, virtual work experience provides a candid idea of how these organisations are working.
Why Work Experience Has Been So Important
COVID-19 has led to so many missed opportunities for young people, from being able to take their exams, to social elements of education such as prom or freshers’ week.
The most prominent issue has been the vast downgrading of exam results with the government’s temporary grading system. Teachers were given discretion when it came to how students were to be marked. This saw 10% of pupils have their marks downgraded in disadvantaged areas, many of which are still fighting with an appeal.
Not only has this caused students to miss out on placements with further education but has also been a huge knock to their own confidence. Virtual work experience has provided not just a view of the working world, but also helps students get their confidence back.
When facing job interviews or inductions in the workplace, students who have been learning virtually for such long periods and may have missed out on the classic ‘first job’ in retail and hospitality due to lockdown closures, can get the experience they need.
Having work experience on the CV is a huge plus to many recruiters and also teaches students those all-important workplace etiquette skills, something that many struggles with when leaving school.
With lockdown now coming to an end and the hope that we will not have to deal with such restrictions again, virtual work experience now appears to be a permanent solution and is here for the foreseeable future.