Top firms come together at S4SNextGen’s work experience symposium

29 January 2018

This event was a part of the S4SNextGen programme, Speakers for Schools work experience programme, giving employers an opportunity to share tips, advice and exchange questions about hosting work experience for state school pupils.

Last Friday, top firms came together for the S4S Work Experience and Student Engagement Symposium. The symposium, a part of the S4SNextGen Best Practice network, comes following the launch of S4SNextGen in 2017.

The half-day event was open to organisations in the Speakers for Schools network offering employers of different kinds and sizes an opportunity to openly discuss their experiences and observations of hosting students in placements and insight day programmes.

The event, which was held at M&G Investments, consisted of talks from hosts who have previously offered work placements via the S4SNextGen advertising portal, insights from students and wisdom from employers with existing and developed schemes. Popular sessions included practical steps and tactics on making placements possible, discussions on what works in different environments and insights into how teenagers think about their early careers. Some of the attendees included Virgin Money, British Airways, Reed Smith LLP and Bank of England.

Here are some of the top tips that came out of Friday’s symposium:

1. You can build transferable skills and real-work insights in almost any environment

Employers and students alike stressed the importance and value of making placements as close to real work as possible. Although this might not always be actual company ‘work’ they are producing, it is important that students have the chance to carry out similar day-to-day tasks or projects that give a realistic depiction of a working day but also the skills needed to successfully contribute to an organisation. Not only is this an essential way for students to mature and develop transferable skills that could help them in their future, it can also be of mutual benefit to employers in seeing a fresh perspective to their approach.

Why? Work placements are an essential way to demystify and break down misconceptions pupils may have about a profession. This might be the first time the student has come into contact with your profession and they may find it’s not as they expected both positively and negatively. Placements are a great opportunity for students to discover that a profession may – or may not – be for them.


2. Employers were surprised by the maturity of the students

Many employers were pleasantly surprised by the maturity and enthusiasm of the students during the placements. For example, Kacper Kowalik from Fandom reflected on his hosting experience, describing the students as ‘bright, smart and engaged.’

Although we might not always remember what it was like to be in our mid-teens, one piece of advice did ring true from Dr Susan Cousin, an Academic Associate at the London Centre for Leadership and Learning in the Institute of Education (UCL); ‘Don’t underestimate 14 year-olds!’


3. Communication is key

Strong communication between all parties (employer, student and school) was a recurring theme throughout the symposium. The amount varied depending on the size and capacity of the employer but good communication, whether by phone or email, was cited as crucial focusing on setting expectations before the placement and helping to maximise impact after it has finished. This included ensuring some time for students to reflect verbally with their manager on what they were learning, as a way to better see what is sinking in and talk through other takeaways from the week.

Students suggested that a briefing note about the company or call prior to the placement detailing the job role and expectations would be useful to help with preparation and what to expect. They also stressed the importance of feedback following the placement so they could consolidate the experience. 

Employers also spoke about the need to maintain good communication with schools, who are key to facilitating and guiding students. This was echoed by Rod Natkiel, the CEO of Fair Train, who noted that being open about what to expect, clear lines of communication as well as a briefing for schools and parents, can all help to create a quality placement — and, that phone calls with students in advance are essential. 

S4SNextGen is here to help, working with employers to find a model and elements that best suits their business size and type. If you would like advice or guidance on how to have meaningful contact with students and schools, please get in touch.

4. Stay in touch after the placement 

Mel Kose from British Airways shared both the value and basic ways they stayed in touch with students post-placement. Mel discussed BA’s Student Ambassador programme demonstrating how continued contact makes placements more meaningful for employers and students alike. By creating a follow-on programme and post-placement contact methods (like a LinkedIn group), students could continue to attend networking events or develop their skills by assisting with BA events, which means they are more likely to stay in touch and hopefully consider BA in the future. Euan Blair, CEO of Whitehat Apprenticeships also mentioned the role of using social media effectively to let students know about future opportunities. 

S4SNextGen is exploring further advice and models for post-placement connections, working with employers on straightforward, practical and safeguarded ways to keep in touch with students, following their work experience. 

Thank you very much to our host M&G Investments, to the employers and students who shared their experiences and to everyone who attended the symposium. If you have read something that has interested you, please visit our S4SNextGen website or get in touch with us for more information. 

Interested in how you could offer work experience for state school students but not sure where to start? Please get in touch today!

S4SNextGen is a free programme to help support better links between top employers and state schools to connect their students with invaluable opportunities such as work experience. If you are a Speaker or HR/CSR professional interested in further engaging with state school students, please get in touch with us for more information. 

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