Going out on work experience

Work Experience and Employability Skills

Does work experience get you employability skills? What are employability skills anyway? If you do a Google search for them you’ll probably come up with similar lists from several countries. So what are they? The 7 key skills to succeeding in the future workplace, as defined by Barclays in their report, How employable is the UK? are shown below:

  • communication
  • resilience
  • problem solving
  • initiative
  • adaptability
  • leadership
  • creativity

Alarmingly, the report also revealed that almost 6 out of 10 working age adults failed to demonstrate all seven core employability skills.

Although 79% of employers said these skills were important for their industry, very few of them were intending to offer training in the following year. So, we would perhaps assume that schools, colleges and universities would be filling the gap.

Work Experience at School

Some readers may remember their work experience at school when they were in S3. The week when the younger pupils were off on activities and the older ones were sweating it out in the exam hall.

This type of work experience can be rather a mixed bag. Often pupils are not particularly interested in the sector they selected. Sometimes legally, they cannot do much in the workplace and so they get bored. At other times the lack of available placements means the pupils choose from a limited pool.

However, sometimes these are a great entry into the world of work. They can add some evidence of work ethic and soft skills to a fledgling C.V. The employer can provide references in the future and may even offer a part-time job while the pupil is still at school.

Aberdeenshire Schools

In Aberdeenshire, the Council offers placements for pupils in the Senior Phase – every school has a dedicated work placement week (some have two) mainly for S4 pupils in the academic year. Flexible and extended placements are also available for pupils. More information is available on their Work Placement Unit website.

Aberdeen City Schools

Aberdeen City Council has changed its approach this year. There will no longer be a designated work experience week for school pupils. Instead Aberdeen Guarantees has been created to allow employers, pupils, schools and parents to access work experience opportunities. There are a range of options on the website, targeting young people up to the age of 25. These include part-time jobs in Greggs, modern apprenticeship information, development programmes from the Prince’s Trust and interview tips.

The website is vibrant, colourful and contains a lot of helpful information. Presumably pupils will have to organize their own work experience that will extend beyond a single week’s placement. This will, of course, involve far more effort on the part of the young person. No doubt this will demonstrate not only their initiative, but communication and adaptability skills to future employers.

What happens this year?

But what of this year? And, in fact, the work experience week that was for S3 pupils? This leaves Aberdeen City schools in rather a quandary. Aberdeen Grammar School has filled the week with half- or full-day workshops or activities developing soft skills needed in the workplace or after school. I’ll be providing some of these in my Presentation and Communication Workshop.

At University

Many graduates complain that employers will not consider them for a job because they don’t have enough work experience. But how will they get the experience if no one employs them? Rather a ‘Catch-22’ situation. I remember complaining about it myself, many years ago.

Universities are keen to reassure their students that the experience they provide will overcome this barrier.

We work hard with our students to make sure they leave University ready for the World of Work with professional and transferable skills that make them stand out from the crowd. 

University of Aberdeen Business School

Transferable Skills

Can you show an employer you have the soft skills they need without work experience? I would say yes – if you do it properly. One of the major problems young people have when it comes to writing a C.V. or a job application is realising they have such skills and understanding how to demonstrate them.

Schools and universities are now more focused on helping young people see how skills learned in one subject area can be transferred to another.

What impresses people

Recently, a business owner told me a story. A potential candidate had a summer job in the country that started at 6 am. There were no buses to get him there, so he cycled, there and back. Every day – for the whole summer.

This alone impressed the business owner. It showed determination, initiative, reliability. And yet, on paper, it was only a guy getting himself to work. Would you even mention such a thing?

You might say he was working, so it doesn’t count. But I would say you could show this skill set in many non-work situations. Anything you do regularly, that takes time, effort, perseverance, will show a potential employer that you have these skills. Attending a club, helping your little brother with his reading, doing chores around the house – all of these could be used as examples.

Everyone loves to talk

Many teachers complain about pupils talking all the time. However, good communication is vital in life and something that must be obvious at an interview. This should be an easy skill to demonstrate without work experience.

Yet, a lot of young people get it wrong. They are unsure, use inappropriate language or don’t appreciate professional communication. All these can be overcome by practice and appropriate learning. Again, schools and universities are sharpening their development of communication skills.

Communication skills are paramount in every working environment and our students have plenty experience to ensure they are able to communicate both verbally and in writing for when they enter employment. 

University of Aberdeen Business School

And it seems to work:

‘I developed a solid grounding in business throughout my degree, as well as skills that were directly relevant for me in the workplace. The most important skill that I developed was communication, acquired through group work, presentations and essays at the Business School. Being able to effectively communicate is so important for me in my marketing role.’

Graceann Robertson graduated in 2016 with an MA in Business Management and French from the University of Aberdeen. She leads the marketing at EC-OG, an R&D company specialising in subsea energy storage, delivery and generation.

Work Experience Itself

Clearly actual work experience gives you a huge opportunity to learn new skills. It also provides more work-related examples to use on a C.V. I believe it’s incredibly valuable for schools and universities to encourage students to do this.

A positive work ethic is enhanced by work experience opportunities offered.  Our students are encouraged to have internships over the vacation period giving real life work experience. 

University of Aberdeen Business School

It must be remembered that work experience itself will not necessarily teach you all seven of the employability skills. Employers, schools, colleges and universities still have to nurture the workforce to develop these. In fact, some people do not become expert in all seven after many years in the workplace.

Lifelong learning and continuous professional development encourage the workforce to develop themselves. This improves the workforce as a whole and ultimately, society.

Surely such a noble goal deserves investment of time and money?

School Links

If your school would like to invest time in the development of your students, there is an upcoming opportunity at the University of Aberdeen.

The Business School at the University of Aberdeen works closely with local schools. They are keen to encourage and inspire pupils to understand Economic, Financial and Business Principles from a young age. 

The University is hosting a Conference for pupils entering their 5th year studies on the 5th June.

Pupils will learn about the different Disciplines within the Business School, what they teach and experience different teaching methods.  They will also meet Alumni and listen to inspirational speakers.  Skills learnt on the day will be life long skills: help for both student life and for later in work.

In fact, I’ll be giving them a taste of what they’ll need to spend their money on when they go to university! A little taster session from my Budgeting Workshop.

If you would like further information about this conference please contact Mrs. Pamela Cumming at:

[email protected]