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Talking about Work Experience

My son is in Year 10 this year, which means it’s time for Work Experience for him and all of his mates. Ethan’s into microbiology (don’t ask me why, it goes way over my head) so he’s found himself a spot at the local council’s environmental health unit later in the year without much help, which I am so grateful for, and I’ve also been speaking with a few of his friends about what they want to do.

Of course, I’ve had counselling sessions about Work Experience before, but seems like I’m having a lot more this year and I’ve identified a couple of things which might be helpful if you’re in the position of working with young people looking for work experience.

  1. Ask them why they’ve chosen that particular place or job for work experience.
    I find most of them come with some idea of where they’d like to complete work experience, which is great, but they might not have thought too deeply about it, which is less great. Start by working with them to unpack their ideas, challenge any assumptions they may have about working in the field, and ask them to visualise what their career might look like. This is their first real shot at making a considered career decision, and it’s low risk, so a great chance to practice their skills.
  2. If they’re struggling to find a place, look for alternatives
    The classic example is the kid who wants to do work experience at the zoo because they love animals and want to work as a zoologist. I get it – I was the same once – but there are loads of other ways they can get work experience in an animal-related field which don’t require them to essentially win the lottery to get in. They could try the local vet or animal shelter, talk to the local police dog squad, speak to their local pony club, or even start a micro-business in dog walking.
  3. Push them to think outside their comfort zones
    Work Experience is the opportunity to try something they haven’t had much experience with, so if they’ve already had quite a bit of experience in an area and want to complete their work experience in the same field, ask them to think about what they hope to get out of it. This could be the family business, or doing work experience with the military if they’re already in cadets, etc. There’s a good chance they could find out what they need to know without using up their one shot at work experience on something they already know about.
  4. Ask them to keep an open mind
    This is their chance to figure out if a pathway is right for them or not, and it’s totally ok if they work out that it’s actually not for them. Remove any pressure, and make it clear up front that it’s ok if they change their mind about their pathway after work experience.
  5. Who’s in their network?
    If they’re struggling to find somewhere ask them to think about who they already know. Do any of their friends have parents with a cool job? Perhaps you could ask if they would take you. It’s not ideal for them to complete work experience with a family member, but if the student has a family member working in a field of interest they could ask if another person in the organisation could take them on. Networking can be incredibly powerful for their careers, and this could be their first opportunity to use the power of networking.

My last note is that I always encourage them to think about all the ways they can experience work that don’t fit into the normal ‘work experience’ model. Even a short conversation over coffee can be useful, so ask them to think about how they can build rich work experiences with a range of people.

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