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Work Experience Opportunities at Your Institution

Work experience can take many forms. Participants can select from highly organised and selective schemes through to adhoc opportunities and will have a variety of motivations connected with their career development and employability. Work experience might be paid or unpaid. It might form part of formal education or be simply undertaken to earn extra funds.

At this stage, it helps to review the range of opportunities available in your own context.

In this part of the module we will spend some time reflecting on the range of opportunities available.

Materials needed: Chp 1 of the NASES Guide to Student Employment (in the reading pack)

Time required: Approx 6 hours


Begin by by creating a table with five columns and at least five rows (hopefully you will be able to add more rows). The last two columns should remain empty at the moment, but the first three columns might look something like this and have the following headings (I have given some example content as a guide only).

Nature of Opportunity Who is eligible? Contacts

8 week placements in the leisure industry

Assessed, course work needs to be completed

Year 2 leisure students only Course Leader

Voluntary work - lots of different areas incl...

Initial training and commitment expected of 3 hours per week

All students and staff


tel: 1234

or contact Jo


Create your own table to illustrate the variety of opportunities available within your own institution. Begin with your own area of responsibility, but from there you may wish to include activities run from other departments and also work experience that learners arrange for themselves.

Now compare your list with the summary provided by the The National Council for Work Experience

Having reviewed the NCWE webpages, are there any of types of work experience which you would like to add to your table?

Please keep a copy of this table as we will come back to it in this section of the module.

The development of work experience since the 1990s

In the first part of this section you were invited to reflect on the diversity of opportunities available at your own institution.

This part of the module invites you to think more widely both about the range of opportunities which might be available at other institutions, but also about the reasons why work experience has grown so rapidly during the last twenty years.


Turn to Chapter One of the NASES Guide for Student Employment and read about the recent developments in student work experience. The Chapter gives us some interesting insights into the:

  • diversity of student work experience available
  • growing numbers of students involved in some type of work experience
  • drivers for increasing number of students undertaking some sort of work experience, which include: enhancing employability, widening participation, student funding, the needs of employers in a rapidly changing labour market to fill both their short term and long term recruitment needs and student expectations.

Now contrast this account which focuses on student employment with the list of benefits of placements on the ASET website here

By contrast, in schools and colleges, work experience has a less certain status. The Introduction to Anthony Mann's ' Work Experience: Impact and Delivery' report published by the Education and Employers Task Force gives an interesting overview. The report can be accessed here.

The potential advantages and disadvantages of work experience

Employers have a big impact upon the quality of a student's work experience. Before you take a vacancy, you might want to spend some time exploring how the opportunity can be designed to meet the needs of the employer and also the student they plan to employ.


Spend around ten minutes jotting down all the advantages and disadvantages of work experience which you can think of - these can be from the employer's or the student's perspective.

Once you have done this, read:

Vesey, A (2012) Undergraduates' Work: Blessing or Curse, Phoenix (AGCAS magazine), January 2012. (Available here)

As an extension activity, you might want to seek out the following article. This research is older, but also makes some interesting observations.

Curtis, S. & Williams, J. 2002. 'The Reluctant Workforce: undergraduates part-time employment'. Education and Training, 44, 1: 5-10

They listed the general advantages of work experience as being:

  • transferable skills
  • enhanced employment opportunities
  • increased confidence
  • improvement of time management and organisational skills
  • related to studies

They also listed some disadvantages:

  • missing lectures and deadlines
  • stress and tiredness
  • poor pay and conditions

Having read these articles, now consider how these advantages and disadvantages fit with the list which you made.

Further reflections on the opportunities at your institution

We started this section of the module by reflecting on the need for you to be clear about the opportunities at your own institution if you are to discuss them professionally with employers.

So far, in this part of the module, you have been invited to list the opportunities available at your institution and more widely, think about how these opportunities have developed since 1990 and reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of work experience.

Now return to the table you initially created. We are going to add two final columns 'advantages' and 'disadvantages'.

For each of the opportunities you listed try to think about its specific advantages and disadvantages.

You might want to keep a copy of your table as an aide memoir when working with employers.

It seems that in a modern labour market many learners will need to get work experience, perhaps for financial reasons, but also to extend their awareness of work, their subject, their career development learning and their employability.

Ultimately, you might not be able to overcome all of the disadvantages which you have listed, but by working closely with employers you might well be able to aid the development of quality opportunities for learners to choose from.


Unpaid work experience

In recent years there has been a steady rise in media coverage and public awareness of the thorny issue of unpaid work experience. The debate shifts from general acceptance that short periods of work experience for young people under the age of 18 will be unpaid to a growing concern for the extent to which unpaid work experience is used by those seeking to (re-) enter the labour market such as graduates and/or long term unemployment benefit claimants. We will look at the principles behind this in the section on anti-oppressive practice and the legal situation in the section on legislation.

Going back to your table, what is the distinction between paid and unpaid opportunities?

Bringing together learners and opportunities


How your place of work organises the bringing together of work experience and learners is affected by all these factors. In a conference paper presented at the ASET conference in 2011, I sketched out a continuum of approaches from 'matching' services where learners are allocated to opportunities to 'supported self sourcing'. (Click on the image to enlarge it)


The full paper and and full presentation are available here. (paper and slides as part of the ASET conference proceedings 2011 - p 148)



Now use the forum thread 'my context' to reflect on your work through this section. What sort of activities are offered in your context? What are the advantages and disadvantages of these? Please also comment on one anothers posts, asking questions of clarification or pointing out differences or similarities.



You have now completed this part of the module.