International work experience practices: a rapid evidence review for Speakers for Schools

The term ‘work experience’ generally means short placements undertaken by school pupils on employers’ premises. Work experience has been a feature of English schooling since the 1970s, although its star has risen and fallen since then. Although the Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Career Guidance state that every student should have at least two workplace experiences outside of a part-time job by the age of 18, a recent survey found that only one-third of young people aged 16 to 18 have completed a work experience placement and students who attended fee-paying schools are more likely to have undertaken multiple placements compared to their state-school peers.

The social mobility charity, Speakers for Schools, believes that every young person should have the right to high-quality work experience regardless of family background and where they live. Its ‘Work Experience for All’ campaign seeks to secure cross-party commitments to making work experience placements an essential requirement in UK secondary schools and colleges. As part of this, Speakers for Schools commissioned SQW to undertake a rapid review of English-language evidence on international work experience practices, the outcomes they deliver and the mechanisms through which they deliver these outcomes.

The rapid evidence review found that there were commonalities in work experience internationally, and that participation in short-term placements is associated with heightened self-confidence, motivation towards school and career aspirations in the short-term, as well as improved access to higher education and lower likelihood of becoming NEET in the longer-term. Our review also identified a range of factors that enable successful work experience, including pre-placement preparation activities and post placement-reflection, having dedicated resource within a school to lead on building work experience networks, and aligning placements to students’ interests. Prevalent barriers included a mismatch between schools and employers’ needs and limited availability of opportunities, which can exacerbate inequalities as students need to draw on theirs and their parents’ networks to secure placements. The report is available here.