How I designed and introduced CfEY’s new work experience programme


14th October 2020

When it’s done well, work experience can help young people pursue their career goals. Work experience offers an important opportunity for young people to form and test ideas about possible pathways, learn about different roles, and develop work-relevant skills and habits.

However, our research with Workfinder found that too often students have to arrange their own work experience, disadvantaging students who do not have contacts in the areas they’re interested in. This disproportionately impacts certain groups of young people, including young women, those from minority ethnic backgrounds, or those from low-income backgrounds.

When lockdown began a lot of students found themselves in a precarious position as work experience and training opportunities. As a result of the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, three fifths (61%) of employers said that they had to cancel some or all of their work experience placements and almost two in five (39%) of graduate employers said that they expected to hire fewer graduates or none at all in the next year.

As an organisation, we have considered work experience before but it was quite difficult to arrange because we had to consider travel arrangements. With students in need of work experience and meetings going online I saw an opportunity for us to finally host some students. In this blog, I will set out how I took this idea and ran with it.

  1. Recruiting students

Which young people do you want to work with, and why?

We decided we wanted to work with students aged 16 and 17. As our research indicates, young people can get a lot from work experience at this stage in their life. It can help them make decisions about their futures and accrue skills relevant to their studies at school or college.

How will you recruit young people?

The Social Mobility Foundation created a long list of eligible students, from which we selected three who we thought would stand to benefit most from the opportunity. This partnership meant we were able to recruit young people promptly and complete the work experience during the school holidays.

  1. Designing the work experience

What do you want to achieve?

I wrote out some initial ideas and shared these with my colleagues. I then refined my ideas and drafted a more detailed plan for the work experience on the basis that our main aims were:

  • To provide post-16 students with an opportunity to train with us and gain valuable work experience in the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • To support students to develop and strengthen their skills, with a focus on research and interpersonal skills
  • To develop students’ networks and their confidence around networking

What knowledge and skills does your team possess, and how can you use this to create training sessions?

At CfEY we all come from different social and professional backgrounds, which means as a team we have a wide range of experiences and skills. Being a trainee at CfEY myself, I’ve learnt a lot from my team and can empathise with how people new to a research organisation might feel, the topics they might want to learn more about, and the skills they might want to develop.

Furthermore, CfEY has undertaken research into what effective work experience involves, and I drew on this to inform my thinking. I wanted to ensure the young people involved would see different parts of our organisation, and different areas of our work. I therefore designed the work experience training programme to cover:

  • Podcast and video editing
  • Writing for different purposes
  • Designing research questions
  • Survey and interview workshops
  • Excel training
  • Presentation practise
  • Mock interview practise with our CEO, Loic

What meetings or events would a work experience student benefit from attending?

As meetings have shifted online, there was plenty of opportunity for work experience students to gain an understanding of how professional meetings look and feel. In our work, we regularly meet with clients, youth and education organisations, policymakers and project partners and collaborators. I therefore planned for the work experience students to attend a range of meetings (with the meeting attendees’ permission), which would give them insight into how we collaborate with partners to produce our research.

For example, students came to our weekly team meeting and in their final week, they did a presentation about their time at CfEY. Students also listened in as members of the CfEY presented findings from an evaluation to a client, and sat in on the recent webinar we ran on the 2020 GCSE results.

  1. Logistics

How will you ensure work experience is accessible?

While running a work experience programme entirely remotely removes the need to think about travel and geography, we nonetheless thought carefully about making sure this would be as accessible as possible. We needed to consider the time commitment that students would be making, and how this would fit around part-time jobs or family responsibilities, as well as their access to technology.

To structure the work experience around students’ lives, while ensuring they got plenty of useful content from the placement, we decided the placement would last two weeks with a maximum of 16 hours of contact time each week. I designed a flexible timetable for the students, combining training sessions at set times with opt-in meetings that they could choose whether or not to attend.

Final reflections

The next time we run the programme I would like the participating students to produce something public, such as a blog or podcast. Given the quick turnaround of the work experience programme we didn’t have the time to develop this aspect however we feel that students would benefit from having something tangible at the end.

My favourite part of the programme was working with the students and seeing how much they enjoyed themselves. Since we went into lockdown I haven’t had as many opportunities to work with young people, so it was refreshing to work with students again and see how insightful and passionate they are. It was also a fantastic chance as an organisation to provide meaningful work experience and training to students during such an uncertain and difficult time.

Talking about the work experience programme, one of our students, Dorea said:

“The placement was such a great and welcoming introduction to the politics sector. I was pleasantly surprised by how cooperative and engaging working in a think tank could be. One of the main lessons I learned from the placement was the importance of being commercially aware of the field you work in and being a dependable colleague.”