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Business value from work experience

Work experience for teenage school students is a long established practice, and my daughter is getting excited about the prospect of working for a week next year.

FIling and flicking pages

Work experience should be more than just filing and sorting pages

As a parent and (previously!) student, I can see a lot of value in the program.

Kids get to try out potential careers to make more informed decisions and they get to see what ‘the real world’ is like. It also teaches them some responsibility and independence and gives them new experiences and contacts.

My daughter is already starting to see the meaning of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’.

Mostly its value is that they are learning by doing, not just listening to someone else’s knowledge.

Work experience good for business?

The other side of the story is how work experience impacts on the businesses hosting the students.

Overall, it must be good or the program probably would have died out many years ago. Or at least it can’t be too bad or costly!

How about in small and micro businesses, though?

A couple of years ago, my daughter’s school asked for business contacts in the writing and printing industries so I offered to take a work experience student. It fell through but it did get me thinking about the concept.

Some of the issues I considered were:

  •  at $5 a day, it isn’t an expensive activity! You won’t hire anyone else that cheaply…
  • the student has to be supervised – legally, they are children so you are responsible for them and can’t leave them alone for extended periods of time (I won’t go into my work experience though as my boss broke this rule!)
  • whoever is directly supervising the student must have appropriate checks (a working with children card in Victoria but equivalent checks apply in each state). This isn’t onerous to obtain but it has to be done in advance and requires the person’s agreement – not so hard if it’s yourself! As I already have one as a cub leader, this isn’t an issue for me but could be for others.
  • what can they do all day? We all laugh that work experience students do the filing and photocopying but I feel they should do more than that – and I don’t think they could fill a week with my filing anyway! Seriously, you may have an overload of things to do, but how many can you expect an inexperienced teenager to help you with?
  • do you have time to teach them? Any new person in your team will need to be told what you want done, but a student will need more explanation and instruction than most other employees
  • where will you physically put the student? Do you have an extra desk and computer for them to use?
  • are you prepared to fill in reports on the student (I don’t think there’s a lot of paperwork, but there will be some!) and have staff visits during the week?
  • can you cope with a difficult student? Some students on work experience will be a breeze to manage and earn trust so can be an asset for the week; other students will require more help and some will test your patience. You need to allow for the worst when planning, while hoping for the best of course!

I think there is a community benefit to work experience that should be factored into the decision, but the whole process is a big undertaking which is probably beyond many small and micro businesses to manage.

For students, being in a small business may offer fewer people to learn from but it could teach them a lot about running a business.

So if you own a small or micro business, have you ever taken on a work experience student? How did it go?

Have I missed any issues worth considering?


* Image courtesy of 123rf