Under 16 work experience, what works? Expert reaction to BCC call to reinstate work placements

Until it was scrapped in 2012, work experience for pupils under 16 was compulsory. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents business leaders, is calling for the reinstatement of work experience placements. In a new survey of 3,000 bosses, 82% said all pupils under 16 should be offered the experience as it helps teenagers prepare for the world of work.

Professor David Guile, UCL Institute of Education, who has researched the subject of learning from work experience placements, gave his reaction:

“When work experience was originally introduced into secondary schools in the early 1990s it was part of a strategy funded by the Employment Department (now an aspect of BIS) to help students to understand the world of work and, in the process, make better post-16 education and career choices.

Much has changed since that time:

– employers’ skill demands have in many cases increased and employers’ work forces have decreased so it is much harder for them to offer and supervise work experience placements to 14 to 16 year olds;

– post 16 staying on rates are much higher and therefore schools, FE Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges need work experience placements for their courses to provide them with vocational relevance – hence the recommendation in the Wolf Review of Vocational Qualifications for work experience to vanish from pre16 education;

– SMEs have grown and their small size makes it very difficult to offer work experience;

And, Education-Business Partnerships, which once received ED funding to broker the provision of work experience placements, barely exist any longer.

In short, the employment conditions and infrastructure which facilitated work experience has vanished.

My recommendation is that 14-16 year olds need instead of work experience short duration work-related visits or access to digital presentations from employers to attune them to changing work conditions and career options. This conclusion is based on an interpretation of the above trends rather than recent empirical research.”

Note to journalists:

Research: Griffiths, T. and Guile, D (2004) Learning through Work Experience for the Knowledge Economy CEDEFOP, Thessaloniki, Greece

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