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The rise of virtual work experience

Simon Reichwald, Strategic Lead for Talent - Connectr

One of the biggest benefits of work experience programmes moving online is the effective removal of traditional geographical constraints. Employers can now reach young people anywhere, engaging underrepresented talent that have historically been overlooked or simply not considered. There is now no reason why students in Cornwall can’t be offered popular virtual work experience places in London or Edinburgh. There are no limits.

These programmes open businesses up to undiscovered talent, give students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds a chance to discover new opportunities, and provide schools in deprived communities the resources they need to help young people maximise their full potential.

Companies already seeing work experience as more than just a CSR project are opening themselves up to a larger, more diverse talent pool. And by moving online, the size of this talent pool grows.

In Practice
Virtual work experience programmes can offer two types of online interaction – ‘live’ and ‘always on’. ‘Live’ work experience includes real-time talks and presentations, giving young people the chance to interact directly with experts, providing the perfect platform to ask questions and learning from their real-life expertise. ‘Always on’ work experience, often known as ‘open access’, provides students with the opportunity to access learning materials and content at a time that best suits them.

Programmes that incorporate a blend of both interactions are particularly valuable because they help schools meet their Gatsby benchmark obligations. Schools prioritise virtual work experience programmes with the opportunity for their students to engage with an employer directly. This interaction is vital if employers want schools to promote and support their business.

There are still too many work experience programmes that don’t offer two-way conversation. Employers only provide reading content for students, with no follow up. This doesn’t help schools hit their Gatsby obligations or offer young people any real-life experience.

Transparency and authenticity are two key elements of a strong candidate experience, making this something that needs to be addressed. Research shows candidates trust a company’s employees three times more than the organisation itself, making ‘live’, human interaction during virtual work experience vital.

Challenges of Virtual Work Experience
Whilst virtual work experience is revolutionising the way students, schools and businesses are able to connect, there are still challenges to address.

Access to tech is still a major barrier when implementing virtual work experience programmes. There are many young people who don’t have access to a computer. Or if they do, it’s often shared between a whole household.

Bandwidth is also an issue. Students living in remote areas of the UK simply might not have the broadband capabilities to interact with mentors, complete online modules and download relevant content on a daily basis.

However, ‘digital poverty’ has improved in the last 18 months, as schools have been provided with significant funding to provide students with their own laptops. Some proactive organisations, such as Deloitte, are also providing students in their work experience programmes with the tech they need to succeed.

Future of Virtual Work Experience
The world of work has changed irreversibly, and in many cases, for the better. People don’t need to work in the same area as their company to be productive and efficient.

Work experience is about helping young people understand more about the world of work, and with so much of our working lives now taking place online, virtual work experience makes complete sense. These programmes reflect what the future of work is going to look like.

Forward-thinking employers are becoming more strategic when it comes to work experience, viewing these programmes as an effective starting point to hire more diverse talent.

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