Make work experience a priority, says industry leaders

Compulsory work experience for under 16s was scrapped in 2012. Now, a BCC survey shows industry wants it back

A huge majority of business, school and college leaders want ministers to recognise the importance of pre-16 work experience, according to a new survey published by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

The survey of over 3,500 business and education leaders found that 82% of business respondents, and 73% of respondents from schools, colleges and universities believe secondary schools should offer work experience for pupils aged under 16. 

Work experience is not offered universally across the UK and in England, in particular, it has been deprioritised. However, the survey found that 79% of employers think work experience is the most important activity to equip young people with workplace skills, followed by paid part-time work (69%) and volunteering (55%). 

While the majority of businesses offer some form of work experience, a third of businesses (36%) offer no work experience of any kind. Micro and small businesses, in particular, need greater support to offer work experience.   

Two-thirds of businesses already offer work experience of some form.

Those that don’t say that they need more support and encouragement to offer work experience:

  • 36% of businesses offer no work experience of any kind.
  • Firms that don’t currently offer work experience would be encouraged to do so by having more information about what is required (36%), someone to facilitate the relationship with the school (33%) and clarity on the benefits to their business (19%).
  • Micro, small and medium sized businesses are less likely than larger firms to offer work experience. 59% of micro businesses (0-9 staff) offer no type of work experience at all, compared to 29% of small (10-49), 16% of medium (50-249) and 12% of large firms (250+).

John Longworth, Director General of the BCC, said: “Business and school leaders are clear: we won’t bridge the gap between the world of education and the world of work unless young people spend time in workplaces while still at school. 

“It was careless of Government to end compulsory work experience in 2012, but it is not too late to correct the mistake – and work with companies and schools to ensure that every school pupil has the chance to feel the energy, dynamism, buzz and challenge of the workplace for themselves. 

“Work experience is crucial to bringing down our stubbornly high youth unemployment rate. It will help ensure more young people are prepared for work. It will help close the yawning skills gaps reported by frustrated businesses across the UK, who face huge difficulty filling vacancies at every level. 

“The Government must act to bring compulsory work experience for under 16s back in England. Devolved administrations must ensure that it is available to all in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We pledge to work with governments in all four nations to ensure that more and more businesses then engage with schools, offer work placements to young people, and help the next generation get the start that they deserve.” 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “we agree that pre-16 work experience is crucial to help young people form opinions about their future, whilst providing them with valuable lessons in the world of work.

“We support the business community’s call to make work experience available to all young people. And we ask that schools are supported with appropriate resources, common sense regulations and good connections with local businesses. NAHT has continually stressed that careers advice should be appropriately resourced and of a high standard in order to help pupils get the best out of their school choices. Work experience is an important part of this picture.”    

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