Work experience

work experience placements and internships

One thing is for certain, today’s employers are looking to recruit employees who have already been tried and tested through having gained at least some degree of work experience. We take a look at what options are out there for you to help prepare your teen for the work place effectively.

Work Placements

The term ‘placement’ refers to any formal, structured work experience.  These programmes will often help an individual gain knowledge of various departments and focus on a specific project. Doing a placement can help your teen get a foot in the door as many companies recruit from work experience placements.  There are sometimes payments although you will need to discuss with your company beforehand whether you will be paid and if so how much. 

Working on a project provides an opportunity to practice skills that the individual can use as evidence of their work readiness in future applications and interviews.  If your teen gets this sort of opportunity, encourage them to keep a record of the project and their contribution to it so they don’t forget what happened.

Competition for placements is high and application deadlines tend to be early in the year.  Help your teenager give themselves an edge by encouraging them to do their research well in advance, keeping a note of deadlines and helping them to applying ahead of the closing date.


These are really the same thing as placements.  They tend to aim for high calibre applicants and often have rigorous application processes.  Again, your child will have the best chance of getting a good internship by doing some research and applying early, clearly stating why they would be suitable for the internship and what they think they would bring to the company.

Certain employment sectors, such as banking and IT, are more likely to offer internships. Interns should receive a salary and get to work on a variety of projects in a real work environment.  Another advantage is that they will get to meet people who work in roles that interest them within organisations that the intern may want to work for.  Help your teen make the most of this chance by encouraging them to find out how the people they meet got where they are and whether that company would be a good fit for them or not.

There has been a lot of debate about whether unpaid work experience is appropriate, particularly in the context of university students, and the rule of thumb is that if someone is doing more than two weeks of work experience, they should be paid.

Sandwich Placements

These are a year of work usually sandwiched between a student’s second and final year of university.  Sometimes referred to as ‘industrial placements’,  they are mainly a feature of highly ‘vocational’ courses like engineering, science and construction.  Most universities provide assistance with finding a suitable placement.

With such courses, a sandwich year is part of your degree and is a requirement in order to complete your course.  They do provide an excellent opportunity to network and build up useful contacts as well as giving students a clear understanding of that particular industry.

The placement year is a big commitment and students need to ensure that they end up in the right company.  Encourage your teenager to approach it as if it were a job and really immerse themself in the whole routine of working life.  This will help them settle in and will be looked upon favourably by their supervisors. Companies often use work placements as a form of extended interview and it is common for them to make work experience students a offer of work when they graduate, usually conditional on getting a degree, sometimes with a particular grade.

Part-Time Jobs

Work experience doesn’t have to be a formal, structured programme.  Any work your teenager do such as working in a bar or shop counts, and will help them develop transferable skills (skills learned in one context and transferable to another) and commercial awareness.

Working while at college or Uni will give your student son or daughter some much needed extra money and juggling a degree and a part-time job will demonstrate to employers that they can multi-task and be well organised.  If they want to be an  accountant or engineer it might seem that such work isn’t really relevant,  but don’t  lose sight of the general skills they will be developing.  They will also need to gain some experience of the line of work they are interested in pursuing, even if its only some work shadowing.  Ideally they will have both.

Work Shadowing

This is where your child observes an employee at work in an organisation and gains a better insight into their role including the skills required and challenges faced. This is often the type of opportunity experienced by school students.

These opportunities are relatively easy to set up.  Work shadowing will show your teenager is interested to a career in a sector and enthusiastic  to find out more about it.  It will provide them with some contacts who they could approach in future for further work experience,  a temporary position or a reference.

Do bear in mind that some jobs are not suitable for shadowing because of the nature of the work, particularly where those roles involve confidentiality or high levels of risk.  Also, the process can be time consuming for the employee being shadowed so make sure you talk with your teenager about how to prepare fully to minimise the hassle factor for them and to help your child get the most out of it..

Paid or Unpaid?

As mentioned earlier, the question of whether those carrying out work experience should be paid is been highly controversial, with many MPs arguing that that all but the shortest internships should be paid in accordance with the minimum wage. A first stages of getting the Unpaid Work Experience Prohibition Bill through Parliament has stalled, but most university careers services in conjunction with the National Union of Students, won’t advertise unpaid work experience which exceeds two weeks.

The law says that individuals should be paid at least the national minimum wage in the UK if they are performing the role of a worker.  The most relevant factors in a worker role are set hours, duties and responsibilities. Work experience should be for the individual’s benefit, not the employer’s.  If your son or daugther are contributing significantly to the commercial operation of a business they are likely to be entitled to payment.

There are exemptions to this rule however:

  • Work shadowing
  • Working for a registered charity
  • A sandwich placement as part of an HE course
  • Work experience as part of a scheme with the Dept for Work and Pensions

If you need clarification, contact the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368.

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