It’s well known that students and school leavers have been one of the biggest victims of missed opportunities during the pandemic. However, it has not all been doom and gloom. Speakers for Schools, a non-for-profit organisation founded by Robert Peston in 2011, have seen great success in their work experience placements, despite numerous lockdowns and social distancing restrictions.
Speakers for Schools have been matching businesses and work experience students for over a decade. They have recently released their data for 2020, in comparison to the previous year, to reveal how their virtual work experience, also known as virtual wex, has had an unprecedented success due to COVID-19.
Construction Leads The Way
With every industry across the globe feeling the impact of COVID-19 in one way or another, there is one that has been able to continue throughout lockdown with very little impact. In the UK, construction sites were allowed to continue work throughout all lockdown periods.
Not only did this allow organisations to continue generating revenue, but it also led to high interest from school leavers. Gen Z is shaping the way for new avenues when they leave school and many are favouring learning trade skills over conventional college or universities.
Job security is an issue that has been highlighted for numerous professionals and younger people are seeking roles that will be ‘safe’ even if the worst were to happen and we experience another pandemic in our lifetime.
Through this interest and the continued success of the construction industry, almost 2,000 work experience placements were on offer in 2020. These were a mix of in-person and online.
Healthcare Reaches Out To Younger Generations
There is no explanation needed when we highlight the stress the NHS has been under. While in-person work experience has been off the cards for some time within NHS hospitals and care homes, virtual work experience has been a lifeline for both the NHS and the students wanting to gain experience.
Anything from data entry to accounts, desk work is one of the many cogs that keep the healthcare system ticking. Without these workers, the system could not run smoothly. With tight budgets and resources stretched to their limit, work experience students are part of the heroes who are helping during the crisis.
Such high media attention to staff in the NHS and the courageous efforts that have been made during the pandemic led to increasing interest from school leavers wanting to join their forces and make a difference. Over 1,300 placements were on offer during 2020, making healthcare one of the most popular and available industries for work experience.
Big Names Join Virtual Work Experience
Thanks to everything moving online, students are no longer bound to their location for their work experience placements. The benefit of not having to house students within offices means there is no limit on how many placements businesses can offer, all while adhering to social distancing and capacity guidelines.
Household names have jumped at the opportunity to have access to the best school leavers available to gain some fresh new talent while providing them with excellent experience and references for their C.V.
The well-known music streaming service Spotify has been working with Speakers for Schools for several years. Thanks to the popularity of virtual work experience, Spotify have increased their placements by over +4000%.
Severn Trent Water has also used this opportunity to get more work experience students into their business, albeit remotely. Placements increased by +525% during 2020.
VWEX Throughout The UK
Aside from being compliant with government guidance and keeping staff and students safe, virtual work experience has shown another positive.
Students are unlikely to have access to their own transport or have the funds to temporarily relocate during their work experience placement. Those from disadvantaged areas or backgrounds often miss out on the best opportunities purely to location.
Virtual work experience has seen a rise across the country, but the numbers certainly differ between each country. England had over 13,000 new placements on offer in 2020 compared to 2019. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had a rise of just over 6,000 placements each.
Virtual work experience doesn’t penalize young people on where they live and even the most remote students have been able to take up placements in London and other large cities, without any cost to themselves.
What’s more, 100% of virtual work experience placements in 2020 were completed by pupils from state schools.
While we all long to return to normality, there are new ways of working that are here to stay and one of these is virtual work experience. While in-person opportunities are expected to increase after the pandemic, the success of virtual work experience means that more businesses are likely to increase their opportunities and allow students to take part from their own homes.
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