Is work experience important?
Is work experience important so you can see what ‘a day in the life of..’ is like? So you can physically experience a workplace? Maybe so you can learn what you absolutely don’t want to do? How about so you can start to build a few contacts within an industry you’re interested in? Well, honestly it’s all of these things and many many more.
61% of NSW students tell us at CareerHQ, that they want more work experience opportunities; and that it’s the most important career education experience they can have. While students also want more time exploring careers at school and more opportunities to talk to someone about their future career pathways, involvement in the workforce is seen as the most valuable tool they can have.
Students’ preference for work experience fits with what employers want. A report in 2017 by market research company High Fliers surveyed over 100 employers. Over a third stated that young people with no work experience at all, had little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their graduate programs.
The small things count
Before you even get in the front door of your work experience premises, you may have had to organise the placement with the employer yourself. A resume may have been required or a casual telephone interview. You’ve had to think about what is appropriate to wear for work experience and how to get to the premises. All these things are the start of valuable learning experiences and a growing sense of responsibility, before you’ve even started on the job.
Being given independent tasks to do helps students to learn not only responsibility but is also key to learning how to work autonomously. In many workplaces, there will only be a few tasks which can be done as a work experience student, without much supervision. That’s absolutely fine. Every task, big or small, is essential. The attitude and thoroughness you bring to every task is important. Particularly, given that employers will monitor their work experience students closely to evaluate how they are doing, and work out other appropriate tasks for you, depending on that.
Work experience can help you build many types of skills, confidence being one of the main ones. You will be suddenly interacting with adults who you (most likely) don’t know. You will have to learn how to communicate with them as a colleague, not as a youngster talking to an adult. Learning what relevant questions to ask for task purposes and what social interactions are normal in the workplace. As confidence grows, these skills will improve daily.
You’ll also be building upon areas such as teamwork, tech skills, communication, time management and lots of others depending on the type of placement you have.
Understanding the world of work
Being in a workplace environment will give you a far better understanding of what an industry and roles within that industry are like. Watching Masterchef does not prepare you for a career as a chef in a hot kitchen, and standing for hours on end. A week’s work experience in a cafe washing dishes, helping clear tables, serve food and observing all the hygiene and safety regulations does.
Watching TV shows or YouTube clips that depict certain industries gives young people some idea, but realising that being in the police is not like an episode of their favourite crime drama is important. Being in the workplace gives you a full understanding of the good and bad aspects of a role.
It also helps you to understand the physical environment and whether that appeals. For example being on a construction site and realising that being around drilling all day can be part of a typical day, or being in a laboratory all day where gloves and masks are worn all day.
The start of something
Work experience can be the start of many things. The love of an industry or role. Some contacts who may be able to give you advice or assistance when looking for full or part time work in the future. The beginnings of a resume, where having some demonstrated experience is so valuable. Thinking about all the takeaways from an experience with an employer and making sure they’re noted down is important. You will likely forget which new software program you learned to use, which type of cash register system they used in the store, how many people were in the team you worked with. All these elements are important not just for resume building but also for giving you confidence that you can and want to do these things.
It can also be the end of something
Completing a week working in a vet’s surgery and realising that being a veterinary nurse is not for you is absolutely fine. The whole point of work experience is to try before you buy. Better to realise now, than part way through a course or a few weeks into a role, that it’s not for you.
If so it’s crucial that you think about why the role wasn’t for you though. It’s likely that whatever the reason that being a vet nurse wasn’t for you, means that similar roles may not be for you either. If being around injured or sick animals was too distressing for you then roles in animal welfare and animal agriculture probably aren’t for you. If it was because you found working a complex phone and diary system on reception challenging, then something like animal agriculture may be perfect for you but administrative roles probably aren’t.
Good or bad it’s all important
Whether you have the best time, make great friends and get your first job out of it, or whether it’s the worst week ever where every minute drags, it’s important. You’ll still have lots of new information to put on your resume. An industry that was relatively new to you will be something you can confidently discuss. You can single out the skills or tasks you enjoyed, and those you didn’t. And most importantly you can decide if it’s for you, whether you need a bit more time exploring it, or whether to move on to something else you might enjoy.
The Department of Education has some resources which you might find useful when considering work experience. https://education.nsw.gov.au/parents-and-carers/pathways-after-school/work-experience-in-year-10