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Tolu Fashina-Ayilara is a member of The British Youth Council. Here she writes about work experience and her experience helping to develop a toolkit for SME’s to deliver better quality work experience.


Tolu Fashina-Ayilara

The British Youth Council are well known for their advocacy with young people. Having already participated in their Parliamentary Ambassadorial programme earlier this year, I was provided with yet another opportunity to offer my expertise to their recent work experience project.

As someone who has reaped the benefits of my own work experience journey, I was eager to join their work experience action group, with the aim to improve the access to high standard, work-related initiatives across the country.

The action group is comprised of six members between the ages of 16-25. Our aim is to collectively design a new toolkit for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) on how to engage young people with valuable work experience schemes. The residential introduced us to the crux of the issue and how our toolkit can inspire the current landscape of career opportunities.

What does work experience currently look like?

The subject of work experience was prioritised by the Make Your Mark ballot in 2017, which garnered over 120,000 votes from young people. In 2019, the Youth Select Committee also recognised this by publishing a report stating that work experience is an imperative as it ‘constitutes a crucial preparatory stage for adult life and employment’. So why then is there a shortage of such opportunities?

During the residential we had the opportunity to interview Emelia Quist from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) who explained several reasons why SME’s might be less inclined to provide work experience.

As it stands, only 58% of the FSB’s members employ at least one young person. The reasons for this include time and financial constraints, and a lack of understanding on how to network with young people. Because of resource shortage, many businesses opt out of work experience.

Ideation and Content Creation

The main part of the residential was focused on brainstorming content ideas to be included as part of our first draft toolkit. We achieved this by looking through existing toolkits and evaluating which features we would like to incorporate into our own design. 

We then decided to identify which ten specific components SME’s should concentrate on when considering work experience, what the advantages of these components are and how our toolkit could practically help SMEs to achieve these components.

The intention of our toolkit is to eradicate the perceived barriers which deter SME’s from providing work experience and instead celebrate the unique selling points which they have to offer. We hope to achieve this by incorporating a plethora of diverse case studies, samples, resources, advice and myth busters.

Personal Reflection

Overall, the residential was useful as a formative stage for the entire project. I was able to grasp and produce substantial research about work experience and operate in a respectful and inclusive environment where I felt valued and empowered. 

It paved the way for me to interact with and learn from other like-minded young people and organisations such as The Careers & Enterprising Company, who have the same dedication to changing work culture. And it also gave an insight into how important it is for young people to use their voices.

What will make this toolkit different to the rest is the fact that it comes straight from the hearts and minds of young people themselves. Yes, the onus is still on businesses to play their part in the work experience agenda. But young people are the recipients. We are the heart of quality work experience.

What can you do as a stakeholder?

You can stay tuned for the publication and official launch of our SME toolkit in September. You can also find out more information about the project and work experience through the resources below:

FSB - Small Business, Big Heart: Bringing Communities Together [PDF]

British Youth Council - Realising the potential of work experience [PDF]

UKCES - Not just making tea... Reinventing work experience [PDF]

Ofsted - Engaging small and medium enterprises in work experience and apprenticeships in London [PDF]

BYC - Work Experience Action Group Members