We are sometimes considered a small company for the punch we pack, so when we were asked to host a work experience student for a week we thought quite carefully about it. How much of our time would this take up? Who would mentor them? What exactly would we give them to do? How do we make sure they gain something meaningful from it? All these questions before we even looked at the safeguarding responsibility. The negatives seemed to outweigh the positives, however we decided to try it once and 'do our bit.' That was five years ago and we have hosted a work-experience student every year since.
For us as a team it was like employing a management consultant to assess the business. Explaining the business function and everyones job roles to a complete outsider, one with little or no knowledge of the corporate world, highlighted so many observations and questions it was enlightening for us and has changed some of the business practice.
One simple example, we asked the student to answer the phones for an afternoon, a skill we take for granted but if you have never done it before it can be intimidating. After managing to cut a few people off and transfer several to the wrong place, they got the hang of it! At the end of the day one team member said, "it’s been great not to have to answer the phone, I have been really productive this afternoon." We all looked a bit quizzically at him, “ I always answer the phone, no one else does.” he said. We reflected on this, he was right, no other team member answered the phone, we had slipped into this routine where the role fell to him alone and as a result he was being constantly disturbed. It prompted a swift change in our business practice which was identified because we had a work-experience student.
If you are considering hosting a work-experience student we would whole heartily recommend it. It does take up some time and effort but in our experience you gain more than you give.