The Education and Training Foundation, through their partner organisation the Adult Learning Improvement Network, recently staged three highly successful dissemination events to share the findings from the Study Programme – Work experience readiness project. These events provided colleges, training providers and other interested parties with the opportunity to hear about the project's research findings, consider best practice in securing successful work experience and the importance of having a 'business' approach to putting 'work experience;' at the heart of study programmes.
The research explored the current approach that providers and employers have towards work experience. The results confirmed that there is insufficient alignment. While providers focus on the immediate needs of their learners and the convenience of providing a placement, they too often make assumptions or give insufficient consideration to the real and pressing business needs of employers. Delegates at all three events were challenged to consider if their organisation is sufficiently business focused and are able to demonstrate how they give priority and energy to meeting individual business needs.
The research also identified that employers who were receptive to providing opportunities for young people would like to know more and be more actively involved. However these discussions and approach needs to be considered along with the business pressures faced by employers and to take place at a time that is convenient for them.
Many employers who have previously offered work experience commented that they felt basic business attitudes were often a concern. Learners didn't appreciate the importance of good customer service and other essential workplace skills including use of initiative, team working and personal time management skills. Many employers commented that learners needed constant reminding not to use their mobile phones during working hours and that timekeeping and focus upon professional working standards was particularly important.
The dissemination event included illustrations of good practice and the very positive outcomes achieved by learners with short film clips, case studies and presentations.
It was particularly beneficial to welcome Ofsted to the three events. Ofsted's Deputy Director Paul Joyce addressed the delegates in Manchester and confirmed Ofsted's support for the FE Sector and recognition of the value FE brings to the learning and development of young people.
The presentations delivered by Ofsted during the three events also explained the findings and grades from recent inspections of study programmes and urged providers to consider the importance of implementing 'individualised Study Programmes' and that 'one size does not fit all'.
Questions from delegates included the value and use of internal work experience as against the expectation of an external placement The guidance offered to this question from Ofsted was detailed and clear that internal work experience is highly valuable in developing skills and confidence but should not be seen as an alternative to real external experience where ultimate employment will be found.
The Adult Learning Improvement Network team provided useful hints and good practice characteristics in their presentations and concluded that the planning of work experience and giving this activity high priority, together with effective individualised learner preparation, collaborative working with employers, and close management of the learner placement period were the key building blocks to success.
Kerry Boffey is director of the Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN)