How one academy trust rolled out virtual work experience for over 2,000 students
21 Jan 2022
In this article, we hear how Academies Enterprise Trust helped prepare their students for the future with virtual work experience.
When the pandemic struck in March 2020 plans for work experience were understandably put on hold. Ryan Gibson, National Lead for Careers at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), knows how valuable engagement with business is for young people across AET’s 21 secondary schools: “It’s critical. If young people want to explore their futures, and consider what different job roles involve and the skills required to succeed in the workplace, they need to be able to experience it.”
As the pandemic began, Ryan, alongside his team of Careers Leaders in each AET secondary school, began developing a new approach to work experience for their students, with the goal of ensuring that every young person who should have been completing physical work experience, would still be able to do so, only this time virtually.
The team set about identifying the key elements of successful physical work experience programmes and considering how these core elements could be replicated in the virtual world. Ryan said: “Work experience is about exploring an organisation, meeting employees, actively engaging with ‘real’ tasks set by the employer, getting feedback and beginning to reflect on the skills you need to be successful in the workplace. It can ignite a passion, spark an interest or even cause a student to rethink their goals”.
To get to the scale required in such a short space of time, AET partnered with Reed Group, the global recruitment specialists. They designed a programme that included a welcome from the company’s Chairman, James Reed, and involved young people exploring different departments, from marketing to finance. The programme saw students complete tasks set by the employer, develop key employability skills and gain feedback on their final presentations.
Reflecting on the programme, Ryan said: “I couldn’t be more proud of the partnership between AET and Reed. When the pandemic struck, none of us had considered virtual work experience, yet within three months our students were flourishing on the programme and getting excited about the future.”
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When done well, virtual work experience, just like physical work experience, can have a really positive impact.
Ryan Gibson, AET Academies
“When done well, virtual work experience, just like physical work experience, can have a really positive impact. The virtual experience affords an opportunity that is not restricted by geography and gives students the chance to experience an employer that they may not have traditionally been able to explore in the physical world.”
In the future, Ryan believes a hybrid of face to face and virtual engagement will continue. “Going forward, we hope that all of our schools will re-introduce physical work experience but continue to provide high quality virtual work experience opportunities as preparation, follow up and extension. This hybrid approach will prepare students well for the workplaces and working practices of the future.”
This article first appeared in our recent Trends in Careers Education report. Read more about how schools and colleges prepared their students for the world of work last year in Trends in Careers Education.