Learnings from our 2023 work experience programme

Volterra are delighted to have hosted four work experience placements over the past two weeks at our Kennington office.

The benefits of work experience placements for students are well documented. Readers won’t be surprised to hear that a good quality placement helps grow the students’ confidence, improves their core skillsets and consolidates their career paths by refining their interests and enhancing their professional networks.

Facilitating good quality work placements is a matter of national priority as we seek to close skills gaps and prepare young people for their future in the labour market. Yet just last week, the BBC reported that work experience placements are becoming less and less available.

To hopefully encourage more businesses to do their part in meeting this need, we have summarised some of our learnings from our programme as follows.

Overcoming capacity barriers:

We are small company – 13 consultants, three partners and one office manager. Our capacity to give the students enough time to provide a beneficial experience had previously been a (fair) concern. Now, however, we have designed our programme to overcome this. Firstly, we share the time requirements across the team to deliver a meaningful work experience placement. Team members who have more time are asked to take a more hands on role in delivering the work experience programme. This can come in various forms such as delivering a workshop to help students learn more about working life, taking some time out to share some examples of the work we do, or being a mentor to closely help them with a research or debate topic.

Mentor roles require a bit more time, so these are assigned taking into consideration the consultant’s capacity so as not to add excessive strain to the consultant and to ensure that the students are sufficiently supported. The programme is flexible – if a consultant gets busy, they can move their workshop or assign it to another consultant.

Unanticipated worker wellbeing benefits:

We believe that our social value strategy will deliver the most benefit if we have buy-in from the whole company, where the team care about the programmes we run. Last year, we ran a social value workshop to understand what mattered most to us and where we wanted to make the most difference. From this, we learned that we all prioritised enhancing employment and skills in the local community. Mentoring and tutoring are rewarding experiences in themselves but they benefit our wellbeing even more by the fact that we are delivering programmes that we care about. What maybe wasn’t anticipated were some other indirect benefits to worker wellbeing; because we all want the students to have a good time, hosting them makes a welcome change to our usual routines and incentivises better wellbeing behaviours in us. It gives us more of a reason to come into the office, we have more casual chats about non-work-related topics, and we take our lunch to the park as a team (along with our recent purchases – picnic rugs and lawn games!)

Making the most of community partnerships:

We used to be passive in how we accommodated work experience opportunities at Volterra, waiting for proactive schools or individuals to get to touch and ask if we would host them. This likely unfairly weighted the opportunities we provided towards more advantaged groups. However, another key focus of our new social value priorities is to ensure that opportunities are also going to deprived communities to help fight inequality. To do this, we have actively sought out local providers, who we work with to find students who may not otherwise seek us out. Careers coordinators are well placed to identify the students who are genuinely interested and willing to learn. They also offer guidance and support to us in designing appropriate programmes and delivering the best quality placements. This matching process is far more effective and far more personal than a simple advert on a company website, facilitating a more successful placement for both the student and the company. Of the four placements we hosted, three were placed through these partnerships. More widely, the partnerships with local schools and organisations help us feel more connected to our community. We are excited to see how these partnerships progress in the future – what new talent we may be introduced to, what other unanticipated benefits we may experience and what difference we may be able to make to a persons’ career.

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