Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Half a million brains up for grabs this summer

Work experience students can make ideas a reality and bring fresh thinking to Britainís businesses

Over half a million students will descend upon UK businesses looking for work experience this summer and, according to the National Council for Work Experience (NCWE), employers who donít make the most of this valuable seasonal resource are really missing a trick.

ìAll companies, and small to medium size enterprises in particular, have ideas and projects which fail to mature due to both time and personnel constraints. Summer work experience students provide the perfect resource to tackle such projects, or free up a permanent member of staff to progress them,î says Liz Rhodes, director NCWE.

ìDeveloping IT systems, creating websites, undertaking market research, writing new software and designing databases are just some of the projects that students can manage. They can also provide access to university resources and bring knowledge of new technologies which might otherwise pass the company by.î

According to Liz Rhodes, work experience students often spot new opportunities and suggest effective working practices which an employer may not see being so close to the business:

ìWe have anecdotal evidence of work placement students who have really turned companies round with their innovative thinking. Successful work experience is a two way process; if employers provide a good brief and adequate support, they will reap the benefits of having an intelligent and enthusiastic employee and extra pair of hands during the summer holiday period,î she said.

In addition, taking on work experience students can save companies both time and money, as Mike Hill, chief executive of CSU, the higher education Careers Services Unit explains:
ìOn many occasions companies go on to offer permanent jobs to work experience students after they graduate. This not only saves on the time and costs associated with recruitment, but also helps retention, as having completed the work placement both the employer and employee know what to expect.î

Some student placements are part of a degree course, such as sandwich placements, projects or professional practice. Others are independent to the course and can be holiday placements or part-time work. How long students are employed for depends on their availability and the companyís business needs but to ensure companies get the maximum benefit from a work experience student, Liz Rhodes offers the following tips:
- objectives should be set at the outset and formal documentation prepared to track both the achievement of objectives and development of general transferable skills;
- employers should explore financial support available, such as the STEP summer programme, which could help cut direct costs;
- the level of supervision needs to be related to the degree of responsibility given to the student - the longer they remain with the company, the less supervision they will need;
- if a student is undertaking a project related to their course, the work experience may be unpaid. Otherwise, NCWE advises that students should be paid at least the minimum wage;
- students are subject to the same tax and National Insurance regulations as any other employee;
- companies can advertise their placements on the work experience bank.