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GCSE Work Experience

Nothing prepares you better for the world of work during GCSE years than a spell of unpaid work experience. Firms around the country offer valuable opportunities to 16-18 year old students, providing an insight into the skills needed when you start work. 

Work experience contracts generally last from 1 day up to 2 weeks, and can help you decide whether a certain career path really is for you, making post-GCSE choices easier at the end of Year 11.

Businesses in all industries offer these placements, allowing you to gain valuable life experience and see how companies operate from day-to-day.

How do I get a work experience placement during my GCSEs?

First of all, you will need to do some research, although your school will already have links with local businesses, who may have taken on students in the past.

Teachers will discuss the range of opportunities available, but you may be able to request a placement within a specific company if you have one in mind. 

A company called Career Ready provides paid work placements that are similar to internships, but offer much more support and guidance in the workplace. They generally last for 6 weeks during the summer between Year 10 and Year 11, and allow you to gain a great deal of exposure to everyday business life.

Think about your future, and decide which subjects you enjoy studying most and what interests you most outside of school, i.e. hobbies, sports clubs, etc. Once you have come up with one or two areas you are keen on pursuing, look up all the different sectors in each field to see what type of jobs are out there.

It's important to realise that not all schools or colleges can source suitable work experience, so it's a good idea to be proactive and see what you can find yourself. Companies offering work experience placements include:

What are the advantages of GCSE work experience?

A placement with a company prepares you for the world of work, and illustrates how you need to get along with colleagues and superiors.

It also provides an insight into a potential future career – it can cement a chosen path, or dissuade you from taking it at all. Either way, it’s much better to find out early if a particular career is not for you.

You see the relevance of what you are learning at school. For example, working within a small technology business would illustrate the importance of your IT or Computing coursework.

A relevant work placement will motivate you to work hard at school, having seen what exam success could lead to.

What does a placement involve?

The main idea behind work placements is to learn about the world of work in general, and your chosen industry in particular. You will be assigned a mentor or ‘buddy’ who can answer all your questions and make sure that you enjoy your time at the company.

The employer should already have a work plan prepared, so you might sit with someone and watch what they do.

You may be given tasks such as filing and data input, or simply help others by distributing the mail.

During your placement, you should:

  • Be professional - make sure you turn up on time every day, follow their dress code and be ready and willing to take on any type of task.
  • Maintain enthusiasm - even if some parts of the work are boring, try to be interested! This will go a long way in the eyes of the employer, and remember that there are repetitive elements to all jobs.
  • Ask questions - this will show you are keen to know more and learn as much as you can to make the most of your time there. If you are unsure of anything, it's always a good idea to ask someone to check, as you may end up performing a task incorrectly or possbily even injuring someone if you are using equipment or working in a lab. If you fully understand what you are doing, you may be able to impress your employer by coming up with a more efficient alternative!
  • Keep a diary - writing down what you learn each day is a great way of focusing on your work, and will help raise any questions you might have. It will also highlight any areas you are interested to learn more about, which you can then ask your supervisor/manager about.
  • Write down a list of tasks - this way you can tick each one off and know you're getting through everything you're supposed to by the end of each day. Your list will help you stay organised and give you a sense of achievement, too.

How will my GCSE work experience benefit me?

A work placement offers many benefits, including:

  • Learning which skills are needed in the workplace, not just in terms of technical or academic ability, but also personal qualities such as time management, communication, and working as part of a team.
  • Finding out a little about a particular industry lets you make an informed decision regarding your future career. You can read all there is about a particular industry, but it’s no substitution for practical work experience.
  • Getting a placement relevant to your potential career path, or an area in which you are interested, adds value to your time away from school, and can provide the motivation to succeed in exams.
  • The chance of being offered a job with your employer in the future, once they’ve seen how well you work, and how you get along with others.
  • A period of work experience looks great on your CV, and whatever you choose to do after GCSEs, it shows that you’ve acquired some workplace skills.
  • A great reference from the company also boosts your chances of being accepted onto another course of study, or into a paid job.

A successful period of work experience within a supportive company is time well spent, and proves that you have what it takes to see things through.

As well as looking good on your CV, it helps you to develop life skills that you can rely on in the future.

After your placement

Before you leave on your last day, ask some of the people you have worked with for their contact details. These could be valuable later on if you need a reference or are looking for a job.

Send them a brief thank you email as a courtesy after you have left, and let them know that you would like to take up another opportunity with them in the future.

Take some time to think about what you did and didn't enjoy during your placement. Even if you didn't like it overall, consider the positives, e.g. did you enjoy talking to customers? or working with a particular computer programme?

This will help you pinpoint what you might want to do in the future as a career, and identify the type of work you would like to do another placement in.

For more information and advice, take a look at your Post-GCSE Options and discover more about finding a job after school or college.