Ian Shaw, personnel manager at contractor Simons Construction, explains how and why firms should put a good work experience programme in place
How should firms approach work experience?
Work experience is a fantastic public relations opportunity. For little time and effort, a firm can provide a worthwhile experience for children, young people and workplace returnees looking to gain an insight into the world of work. Work experience at Simons is viewed as part of our overall human resources strategy – it is an effective way of engaging local communities as well as a way to talent-spot.

Who is suitable?
There should be no age (or other) barrier to getting a work experience placement – from school-age students getting a taste of the workplace to those who have been away from the office for a while and need to update their skills in a working environment. In the past 12 months we have welcomed numerous one- or two-week school placements, as well as a person who came in for two-and-a-half days a week for three months to support her masters degree.

What sort of work should be given?
Work experience should not be seen as a way of coping with a filing crisis – we are competing with sexy sectors such as finance, IT and marketing for attention. Planning is the key: the receiving department must be clearly briefed. so that it can prepare imaginatively – particularly for office work. For site work, other factors will have to be taken into consideration, such as health and safety issues. But the main thrust of the placement should be on providing opportunities for the development of key skills.

Simons has recruited many work experience students – if they have shown enthusiasm and an understanding of the role

What should both parties have achieved by the end?
Both parties should have enjoyed the experience. The student should leave with an insight into the world of work in general as well as the construction sector in particular. They should have learned new skills and should leave wanting to learn more. They should also have developed an appreciation of the attributes and attitudes expected within the work environment, such as punctuality, attention to health and safety, awareness of dress codes and appropriate interaction with colleagues. It should also reinforce the relevance of any learning they are doing at school or college. For its part, the company should have the satisfaction of knowing that it has assisted somebody in making a decision about their career.

Does the relationship end once the work experience student has left?
Not in every case. Simons has recruited many work experience students. If the individual shows enthusiasm and an understanding of the role, when a position arises they are welcome to apply. Many of our managers keep in contact with students and offer support during the period leading up to their seeking a permanent position.