Most schools expect pupils to undertake some form of work experience during Year 10 or 11 so that young people can learn ‘about’ work, ‘for’ work and ‘through’ work. To a large extent the purpose of work experience is simply to give young people a chance to find out what it’s like to be employed so the type of job you try is not meant to be a career choice as such. However, lots of people use the opportunity to have a go at something they are interested in and even if they find out it’s not exactly their cup of tea it can provide a great opportunity to try something new and different and see what you find out about yourself in the process!
Placements and work related experience
Over 95% of students undertake work experience in Years 10 or 11 (S3 or S4). Most placements are arranged for the latter half of the summer term in Year 10, to avoid disruption to timetabled learning. Some placements last three weeks, but most finish after two weeks, or even one.
Schools are frequently supported by the local Education Business Partnership (EBP). In Scotland, Careers Scotland organises work experience and in Wales, Careers Wales is responsible for the EBP. Your school (usually the careers co-coordinator) will inform you about arrangements for work experience.
If you like science, technology and maths and might be interested in some careers linked to them then this website is a great place to start! But you could also check out the Maths Careers website to find out about the type of work experience you could aim for. There is more detailed information on some of the linked websites at the bottom of this page, as well as video profiles and other ways of finding out about some new and different jobs.
There are lots of schemes in this section. It might be a good idea to add this section to your favourites so that you can check for the latest information.
What is work related experience?
The aim of work experience is to provide an experience of work, rather than just to try a particular job – though that can be included. The idea is that you should have the opportunity to develop your transferable skills and, if possible, to put some of your science and maths skills into practice, or observe others using theirs. Just as with preparing to apply for courses or jobs, you need to prepare well beforehand. In fact reading the Applying for courses and work section will give you some useful hints.
If you are looking for a placement related to science or maths and haven’t been able to find one through school, then you may well have to find a placement yourself. You can get ideas from friends, family, online business directories or business directories in your local library, or have a look at the list below for ideas on where you can start your research.
- Future Morph, Maths Careers and the Prospects websites all have examples of science, technology, engineering and maths related jobs and information about careers you may not have thought of yet;
- The Prospects website has a list of jobs through the section ‘Jobs and Work Experience’ to get some initial ideas on jobs in science, mathematics and statistics;
- Once you know the types of things you might be interested in, you can talk to your work experience co-ordinator in school about where those careers are found locally;
- Some jobs will be harder to find than others but you might be able to come up with something similar. It will give you a chance to try things out and develop some new skills;
- There will probably be lists of placements you can choose from and it is a good idea to have a few alternatives in case your first option is not available;
- The more preparation you can do before looking at the lists, the better chance you have of obtaining the right placement for you;
- The government has written some guidelines on Directgov for young people seeking work experience.
Who should you talk to?
Speak to anyone whose judgement you trust (e.g. youth workers, people at your church, your friends’ parents) about jobs they have had but remember that they might be a bit out of date so best to check your facts with a trusted source.
Your school or careers adviser will probably have a leaflet for you to take to the employer to explain the scheme. To approach an employer, you should consider:
- What you want to achieve in terms of what you would want to have learned at the end of the period
- How you will record your achievements
- Will the company be able to offer you a project to complete, rather than just doing simple, repetitive tasks?
In some cases you will need to complete an application form, or write an application letter and have an interview. In that case, you should definitely refer to the Applying for courses or work section.
Before your placement
Before you begin your placement, think about what you hope to achieve from it and go through your work diary to make sure you know what you are expected to learn from it. Make sure you have an idea of the types of questions you will need to be asking while you are there.
Some students may be allocated a mentor or buddy who will be able to listen to their experience and help them deal with any difficulties or opportunities that arise. Ideally this would be someone in the company, but it could also be someone from the school or education/business link organisation. Make sure you ask the company if they could give you a mentor, if you think you might need one.
If you think it might be a bit daunting being the only female/male or person from an under-represented group in a company, it might be a good idea to ask the employer if they have any staff with a similar background that you could meet to find out about their experiences. It may be that you could request them as your mentor, if you think that would be helpful.
At the end of your placement
Once you have completed your work experience, you should think through what you have achieved and the experience you have gained.
- List the things you did well
- Make a note of any science and maths knowledge and/or skills you developed
- How well did you communicate with people, both inside and outside the organisation?
- What resources did you use to find information to carry out your work? Were they realistic?
- Did you initiate and respond to correspondence?
- Did you come across any conflict? How did you resolve it?
- Did everything go to plan? If not, how did you deal with it?
- How did your placement make you feel? Did you enjoy going into a working environment every day?
- Finally, summarise your achievements and skills development in a paragraph to use in your CV.
Other useful websites
National STEM Centre (includes e-library resources)