We met with Leeds City College a few weeks ago to talk about how we could help encourage more digital businesses to take on work experience students. Akeisha Brown from the colleges Business Engagement team talks about how digital businesses can get involved and how beneficial work experience is to students wanting to pursue careers in the industry.
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Leeds City College, part of Luminate Education Group, is one of the largest Further Education institutions in the country with over 20,000 students in attendance. We operate out of three main campuses: Printworks, Park Lane and Quarry Hill, and have smaller provisions in communities across the city. We provide a vibrant and diverse learning environment, delivering excellent and innovative education which is supportive, inspiring and life changing.
Putting students at the heart of everything we do is at the core of the college values, and we strive to ensure that everyone has a positive experience whilst they are with us. However, students don’t stay students forever, and we’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t adequately prepare them for life after college. Whether it’s full-time employment, university or an apprenticeship, eventually all students will find themselves in the world of work, and what better way to prepare them, than interacting with employers as early as possible.
Although there are several ways in which students can engage with employers, the opportunities which prepare them the most are work experience and industry placements. Although similar, there are slight differences between the two: work experience is usually short term, lasting between 1 and 4 weeks, and is a chance for students to get a taste of what an industry entails. Industry placements are longer in length (at least 315 hours, equivalent to 45 days) and are part of a new qualification being introduced in September 2020 called T Levels. Unlike A levels which are mostly academic, T Levels are far more technical, giving students the opportunity to apply the skills they are learning in college to a real work setting. Despite their differences, both work experience and industry placements have the same objective – to bridge the gap between students and employers at no cost to either.
As a college, we embrace partnerships with businesses of all types, shapes and sizes, and we work with them in a variety of ways. From careers events open to our entire student body, to smaller scale talks and workshops, there’s always something happening across the campuses to encourage students and employers to connect.
As a college, we embrace partnerships with businesses of all types, shapes and sizes, and we work with them in a variety of ways. From careers events open to our entire student body, to smaller scale talks and workshops, there’s always something happening across the campuses to encourage students and employers to connect. We struggle, however, when it comes to finding companies that are open to supporting work experience and industry placement opportunities, especially within the digital sector. Although the number of students wanting to pursue a career in digital is ever increasing, the opportunities for them to gain experience are not. Last year, less than 40% of students who requested work experience within the digital sector were able to achieve this.
Although the number of students wanting to pursue a career in digital is ever increasing, the opportunities for them to gain experience are not. Last year, less than 40% of students who requested work experience within the digital sector were able to achieve this.
It seems there’s something about the words ‘work experience’ or ‘placement’ that deters companies from even considering them. They’re plagued with ideas of unenthusiastic students, poor structure and little organisation. But this isn’t how a placement should be. When engaged and motivated students work with supportive and inspirational employers, a placement becomes a partnership, an opportunity for both parties to learn and grow. At Leeds City College, we strive to ensure that placements and work experience are positive for everyone involved. We work with students on a 1:1 basis to understand their interests and to prepare them for the working world. Similarly, we work with companies to understand the tasks they’d like to set a student, their expectations and qualities an ideal candidate should encompass. This way, we’re able to match students and employers to one another based on factors that matter, setting the placement up for success before it’s even begun.
How beneficial is employer engagement?
The benefit that industry experience has on students is HUGE! The ever-changing digital landscape means that skills that didn’t exist 5 years ago are now high in demand. Interaction with employers gives students a full picture of potential career pathways and job opportunities. Young people are able to make connections with people doing the very jobs they aspire to, not only helping them to grow their network, but giving them access to role models and raising their aspirations. Challenging students in a real work environment develops motivation, resilience and other skills essential for being successful at work.
As important as students are, it’s not all about them, work experience is just as beneficial for the companies that choose to support them. They’re a great way for an organisation’s staff members to upskill; any young person who starts work experience needs a helping hand, and giving an employee the responsibility of mentoring a student allows them to develop their supervisory skills, and makes them feel valued in the workplace. It’s also great from a recruitment perspective. Unpaid placements give companies plenty of time to see how the student works and whether they’re really as organised as they said on their CV! Plus, they get a better understanding of them as an individual and whether they fit with the company culture and values, something much more difficult to assess with the standard interview process. And of course, working with a student is rewarding. From a business point of view, young people approach tasks from a completely different perspective, perhaps opening up new ideas and approaches. From a personal perspective, seeing a student develop and mature with an organisation’s support and encouragement is heart-warming.
So how can you get involved?
If you’d like to support students by offering work experience or an industry placement, there’s a whole team of people ready to work with and support you. Emma and Akeisha, our business engagement team, are happy to come out and chat with you about how this could work for you and your company, whether this be over the course of a week or a full term. Even if placements and work experience don’t work for you right now, there are so many different ways in which you can invest in future talent, why not have a chat with us anyway?
Look out for us at the Leeds Digital Festival:
We are hosting an event 'Innovation, Security and Data in the Digital World' on Wednesday 29th April at our Printworks Campus (Hunslet Road, Leeds LS10 1JY). The Kitchen and Bar will be open from 3.30pm for refreshments and networking. The event will begin at 4pm. Hope to see you there!