Virtual Work Experience
Throughout October 2020 we worked with employers across the UK to provide over 500 young people with Virtual Work Experience.
Our Virtual Work Placements were designed to give young people an accurate insight into what it’s like to ‘work from home’ for a real company:
- Placements were held over 4 or 5 working days via video conferencing
- Students were provided with a set job description and a host who supported them during the placement.
- Students carried out real work which added value to their host employer.
- Students were invited to real meetings, where appropriate.
“Our learners fed back about the new skills they had learnt, for example Google Slides and another said it had opened her mind to new career paths.”
“They showed exceptional analytical skills, presentation design skills and communication – some of the best work I’ve ever seen coming from students at this stage in their education.”
“My placement was amazing. I’m an extremely nervous person but I participated in so much team work and created new ideas with people I’ve never spoken to before.”
Students gained vital insights into the world of work, the nature of home-working, and developed their professional skills.
In Scotland, students were also able to elect to participate in the SQA Personal Development Self and Work Unit and receive points on their school leaver certificate.
How long should placement be?
Placements are held over 4 or 5 working days via the video conferencing platform your organisation uses. These don’t necessarily have to be full, 9-5 days, helping to reduce ‘digital fatigue’. Placements can also be over a number of weeks to better suit you and the school/college e.g. 1 day per week.
When do the VWEX placements need to take place?
Ideally, we are looking for these to be held in the autumn school term, potentially during October half term, as students will not be committed to their day to day studies during this time so should have the capacity to participate. This is however flexible (especially as the dates for this break vary across the UK) as mentioned previously, to suit the employer.
What age are the students?
Students will shortly be in S6/Year 13 (aged approx. 17-18).
What technology platform(s) should we use?
You are free to use whatever platform(s) you use in your day to day business. It’s best to choose an option which has ‘break out’ functionality, if you plan to set the students group tasks. For reference, most (but not all) schools will have been using Microsoft Teams as their online platform of choice.
What should the content of the week look like?
We recommend a mixture of workshops and project work, to ensure a varied and blending learning experience for the students and to balance resource impacts for the employer. See here for an example work schedule.
In terms of workshops, these are some suggested topics;
- Overview of the organisation
- Meeting(s) with key employees
- Overview of key skills/topics relevant to the industry
- Presentation skills
- CV and applications masterclass (Career Ready can provide materials for this)
In terms of the project, this should be something relevant to your organisation as well as meaningful & tangible for the students to work on during the week. It is suggested that the students present what they’ve learned to the employer at the end of the week.
Examples of successful VWEX we have seen in our research include:
- Identifying ways to engage a younger customer base via social media
- Acting as the Chancellor and identifying areas to increase/reduce spending whilst managing the overall budget, with rationales for each decision made
- Designing a new building
What safeguarding measures do I need to be aware of?
We have developed a set of principles for VWEX around safeguarding which we require all employers offering placements to be aware of and adhere to. The key principles are as follows;
- Each employer providing a VWEX placement is required to have a DBS/PVG checked colleague (e.g. Career Ready mentor) appointed to oversee the programme, check in on sessions and act as a point of contact for any issues that arise
- If an employer does not have an appropriate DBS/PVG checked colleague/Career Ready mentor to oversee the placement, we will ensure that a parental permission slip has been completed
- For group sessions, employers must ensure meetings are secure, participant screen sharing is switched off and that waiting room/lobby functionality is utilised to ensure attendees are as per the anticipated list
- 121 sessions between students and non-DBS/PVG checked colleagues are NOT permissible
- Student FAQs are being created to support students in advance of their VWEX placement. This includes information around how to escalate a concern if something doesn’t feel right
- Students will also be given the opportunity to attend a briefing session to receive further guidance around the above, plus up skilling around professional etiquette and the working environment
If you suspect abuse, if a young person confides in you or if a complaint is made about any adult or yourself, it is your duty to report the concern to Career Ready, as per our Safeguarding Policy.
How many volunteers will I need to organise the week?
This is very flexible and depends on the number of students you are able to host. As a minimum, we would suggest a 3:1 person to organise and coordinate the week, check in with the students etc, then 2 others to support with presentations and employer workshops. It’s beneficial for students to hear from a range of colleagues, from junior level staff to senior management, so the more volunteers (even if for short slots of time) the better.
Where will the students be based?
For students in Scotland, we would ask that the students on your VWEX will be the students that you currently mentor as an organisation. Given the virtual nature of the experience however, students all over the UK can attend, and geography does not need to be a barrier. For the rest of the UK, if you would prefer to only work with students in your local area, please make this clear to your Career Ready contact.
What support will I receive?
Your Career Ready contact is on hand to answer any questions you may have and we’ve also set up the following mailbox should you need this – firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, we will be hosting weekly Employer Briefings to answer any questions you have ahead of your VWEX week and there will be a designated page of our website set up for VWEX information & support.
Will students undertaking VWEX need to be paid?
There’s no expectation of payment, our aim is to provide a meaningful experience and in doing so ensure fairness and equality for all participating students.
No matter how experienced you are, the classroom (even in a virtual sense!) is very different from the workplace and it’s important that you adapt your style accordingly. However, experience tells us that volunteers who work with young people find it a rewarding experience and often develop skills and confidence that they can use in their own jobs.
Typical Career Ready students have potential but may lack access to professional networks and role models. Employer volunteers can step into this gap and prevent these young people falling through the net, helping to build their confidence, provide a role model and help them to understand the working world and how they can succeed.
Remember what you were like at 17 or 18.
- Teenagers are going through both physical and emotional changes during their transition to adulthood
- Their lifestyle is not always optimal which can impact on their concentration
- Their peer group is very important to them
- Teenagers can be sensitive to praise and recognition
- Bravado may hide a lack of self-confidence and feelings can be easily hurt
- Their understanding of life outside school and college is quite limited
The below is not an exhaustive list but intended as a guide to help you feel prepared.
Communicating with young people
You may find that holding web meetings with students can be quite different to a work capacity; initially you may have to take the lead and encourage until they are more confident. Students may have limited experience of communicating with adults other than their parents/guardians and teachers and may be shy or nervous during the session. You should not mistake this for rudeness.
It is important that you encourage participation and engagement – ask questions to check they’ve understood everything and invite them to ask you questions in return. Don’t take it personally if they are reluctant to ask or answer questions, and praise responses even if they aren’t correct. Students are nervous of making a mistake and are sensitive to recognition.
Make it personal
One of the key reasons we ask employer volunteers to deliver sessions is so that students get the opportunity to hear directly from a business representative and hear a different perspective from their parents and teachers.
Start by introducing yourself and giving a bit of background about you and your career. Include real, concrete examples and anecdotes from your own work experiences to illustrate a point. Not only will this make your interactions more personal, it will also help to make you seem more real and break down any perceived barriers between you and them.
Make it interactive
Students no longer spend a whole class sitting at their desks listening to the teacher – they are used to participating in group and individual activities and contributing their views. It’s important that you don’t lecture the students and vary the tone and pace of presentations, using interactive webinar functionality where this is available (e.g. allowing the students to ask questions via chat box).
Use humour where appropriate
If you can include some humour in your interactions it will help students to feel relaxed and comfortable talking to you. However, young people can be more sensitive, and bravado can hide a lack of self-confidence. They can also tend to worry about not being respected and that adults think they are stupid. Be careful making jokes at anyone’s expense.
Don’t assume prior knowledge
Remember what you were like at the age of 17/18 or when you were still in college. Students at this age have limited understanding of life outside of this environment but will often be nervous about asking questions. Make sure you avoid using jargon and acronyms and check that students understand you.
Challenging difficult behaviour
Students who have been selected for the Career Ready programme have committed to actively participating in all aspects of the programme. They will be briefed on appropriate dress code and behaviour before attending VWEX. However, if you experience any difficult behaviour from any of the students, which you don’t feel able to address yourself, you should alert your Career Ready contact.
It is unlikely the young person will want to do the exact job you are doing but it is really important that this is about skills development and how the volunteer can build on their experience, networks, knowledge to guide them in the right direction.
Quite often the young people will have no idea what they want to do, or they may have a very fixed and rigid idea. Always respect their ideas and share real life experience…. did you know what you wanted to do? Did that change? If so, why?
Concerns you may have / when things don’t go to plan
Working with young people can be very rewarding but it can also be hard work. If you leave the first interaction feeling that you have made a difference, then that’s a bonus but if you leave thinking it was harder than you anticipated then that is perfectly normal. This type of support is something that we don’t always appreciate until later down the line.
Students seeming unresponsive or not interested
This is probably the most common issue faced by volunteers. This could be because they are nervous or not confident. Engaging with a businessperson can be a major thing for some students. Persevere with the meeting(s) and use some of the practical suggestions in this document to engage them.
Student not turning up
Please don’t take it personally though, we are often working with students who are disengaged or in danger of disengaging so there could be a whole range of issues.
Not sure how you can help
Sometimes a relationship with a confident student may be difficult if you are not sure where you can add value. Remember that the young person you are working with will have very little, if any, experience of the working world so just because you can’t see the impact you are having does not mean you are not having one.