12th October 2010

It is interesting to note a subtle debate which is bubbling under the radar relating to the subject of do people learn through experience or via specific interventions such as training courses etc. As with most debates of this nature I suggest that the answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes but I would like to focus on one element which is close to my heart – work experience.

I do tend to believe more in that behaviour is dictated by experience and thus work experience in my view is vital for young people. Unfortunately in too many cases work experience is treated in a “block” fashion with it being seen as a logistics exercise by schools, businesses and local authorities rather than a vital step in encouraging young people and explaining the world of work in a manner designed to inspire.

Of course there are numerous examples of good practice and work experience placements which have led to permanent jobs but for many young people work experience is an event to be endured rather than savoured.

If we think back in our own lives there will be some episodes which stand out as life changing in their impact and often these are based around an inspiring individual be it teacher, mentor or boss. If you ask successful leaders how they have learnt through their career they will often mention their first work experience. It could have been a school placement or indeed their own after school or holiday job but in most cases the experience sticks and acts as a powerful motivator either to be replicated or avoided!

I want to see every work placement tailored to a students needs and devised to inspire. At the time of work experience our young people are at an impressionable age and memories – good or bad – will stick for life. The influence of people at work will be remembered and it is important that businesses understand this and place young people with their most inspiring staff members – at whatever level in the company.

Work can come as a shock; the punctuality, dress, pressure and schedules will be totally different from what they are used to at school and so each young person should be adequately briefed by their teachers prior to starting and all experiences logged to help improve future placements. As I have mentioned this is not the norm due a wide variety of factors but we must never lose sight of why young people attend school – to prepare them for work.

We need to build a much stronger partnership between the world of work and academia, if we do that then our future will be in good hands.

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