Why graduates should have some work experience

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A recent survey showed two thirds of employers look for graduates with relevant work experience because it helps them prepare for work and develop general business awareness. Importantly, one third of employers felt that applicants did not have a satisfactory level of knowledge about their chosen career or job.

To gain a better understanding of a career, you can organise some work experience or a few days’ work shadowing with an employer. It may not give you time to develop job-specific skills, but it can give you insight into the work involved. It also shows you have motivation and commitment. Some schools, colleges, and universities may be able to organise this for you but if not, research and contact companies yourself.

Alternatively, you could gain relevant work experience as part of a vocational programme, such as a BTEC diploma or apprenticeship. You could also consider an internship, a higher education course which offers a work placement (a sandwich course), or a foundation degree.

  • Internships can last from a few weeks to up to a year, and could be something you organise for a summer holiday or a gap year. Depending on the type of contract, you may or may not receive a wage. Internships are available in many sectors and industries such as business, law, marketing, engineering, and hospitality, and can give you the opportunity to gain more career-specific skills and knowledge. They are very popular and competition for places is high, so you’ll need to apply as early as possible.
  • Sandwich degrees normally last four years and include a year working in industry with an employer. Most placements offer a salary and they are a great opportunity to gain in-depth experience of work in your chosen field.
  • Foundation degrees are vocational/work-related degrees. They combine academic skills and knowledge with workplace performance and productivity. They focus on a particular job role or profession and are designed in conjunction with employers.

The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality. If you can find people who are fun, friendly, caring, and love helping others, you are on to a winner. Personality is the key.

‘One area that many young people underestimate is their inherent digital expertise. Having grown up in the digital world, many tools and technologies are second nature to them. Now is the time to capitalise on these skills and show potential employers exactly how valuable they can be.’

Want to find out more?

Here are some reports and surveys which give detailed insight into the careers of the future:

Top tips and guidance from people who recruit – a great guide produced by CIPD. It’s packed full of advice directly based on what recruiters say – what they look for when they pick out the best job applications, the kinds of questions they ask at interview, and how they choose who to give the job, apprenticeship, or work experience opportunity to. You’ll also find a section on what to do if you haven’t got any work experience, including information on volunteering and how it can boost your chances of finding a job.

What are the 21st century skills every student needs? An insightful article from the World Economic Forum about the skills needs of the future, with references to key research and reports.

Working Futures (UKCES) – based on detailed labour market information, this report offers a forecast for job opportunities in the UK up to the year 2024, based on past behaviour and performance. The report isn’t intended to offer precise predictions, but an indication of which industries might expand, which might contract, and on what scale.

Careers of the Future and the Future of Work: jobs and skills in 2030 (UKCES) – a piece of research exploring the future of work, and how jobs and the skills needed in the workplace will change by 2030.

Sector Insights (UKCES) – a collection of reports that look at particular sectors in the UK to identify the outlook for jobs and skills, identify major trends affecting each sector, and how the mix of skills needs is likely to change over the next decade. These reports also investigate employers’ perceptions of the skills needs of specific occupations, and the challenges employers have in meeting those needs.

Education and skills survey 2016 – the Right Combination (CBI/Pearson) – this report provides useful insight into the skills employers are looking for, based on the results of a survey of nearly 500 organisations in the UK.

Skills Matter (OECD report): – a survey of adult skills in 28 OECD countries. It was developed to provide a picture of the match between the supply and demand for skills, how labour markets are changing, and how well equipped their citizens are to participate in and benefit from increasingly knowledge-based economies.


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