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Reinventing Work Experience - Zoe Healey, Industry and Work Experience Lead

28 Feb 2024

The true impact of work experience is not the number of days spent and tasks completed, but the skills developed. That is how we should define quality.

Written by Zoe Healey, Industry and Work Experience Lead at

Earlier this year, we announced that more than 20,000 young people across the country are to benefit from a pilot programme, testing new approaches to workplace experiences. We are utilising evidence of what works to reinvent how we define quality work experience for young people.

Moving the debate away from quantity to quality

Work experience has been a recognised feature of secondary education for decades. Now is the time to rethink our approach in the context of modern work practices and new industries. The Gatsby Benchmarks recognise the importance of work experience, with Benchmark 6 stating that by the age of 16 every pupil should have had at least one experience of a workplace, with more and more schools are meeting this benchmark. Seeing the world beyond the school gates can be inspiring. To turn this inspiration into work readiness, experiences must be connected to a wider programme of high-quality careers education.

This doesn’t mean throwing out the traditional work experience placement, but this is no guarantee for a meaningful, quality work experience. The challenge is to find ways for provision to be affordable, well-planned and coordinated efficiently within an overall career system structure. The and offer useful calculations of costs to delivering high quality work experience including savings when coordinated through Hubs. An estimated annual cost for universal provision to year 10 students across the near 5,000 secondary schools in England would be £38 million,notwithstanding existing provision across the country.

Where there is limited resource or employer capacity and where there are other logistical barriers to overcome, it is difficult for schools and employers to deliver such a placement and there can be a trade-off between quality and quantity. The annual challenge of securing a placement for every young person becomes an end in itself, leaving little time to establish the intent and outcomes or to consider how to support a young person given their starting point in career readiness terms.

For some young people, the size of this challenge means they miss out and do not get any work experience at all. For those that do, experiences vary in quality.

Modern work experience should ensure equity of access for all young people, be deliverable for schools, colleges and employers and have recognised and measurable value for everyone.

A good place to start is by broadening our understanding of work experience to include a more diverse range of workplace experiences, such as industry visits, job shadowing and employer-led projects. This creates more opportunities for young people. Insight from our Employer Standards shows that employers are more likely to offer workplace visits than 2-weeks work experience. The key is making sure each touchpoint builds on the last one – and looks to next one. Building a coherent set of experiences for young people.

Moving focus away from a stand-alone placement towards multiple, targeted and varied experiences enables the development of a progressive programme of workplace activity for each young person. This starts early (eg. year 7) and enables schools to weave in other critical elements of quality careers education, such as understanding local labour market information and reflecting careers in the curriculum.

This quote from Rylie, now an Apprentice Site Manager at Willmott Dixon, shows how having multiple, diverse workplace experiences enabled her to make more informed decisions about her future pathway;

“Workplace experience was a key point in my journey where I was able to explore industries, roles and opportunities. I was lucky enough to explore 13 workplace experience programmes which meant I had a range of experiences all beneficial in different ways. I found that I hated the pharmaceutical industry and loved the construction industry. Getting these experiences allowed me to develop key skills and gain an understanding of what it’s really like in the world of work. I found my passion for Construction Management through work experience with my current employer Willmott Dixon which shows the impact work experience can have on young people.”

Focusing on a young person’s progression/career readiness journey

And so, working with partners, our goal is to shift the focus from the number of days spent and tasks completed to focusing on impact, the skills young people develop and the personal growth they achieve over time. In other words, we are moving on from defining quality inputs to driving quality outcomes.

The model below illustrates how a progressive programme of workplace experiences differs from the traditional model, by building in-depth over time and starting from Year 7. It provides the scaffolding for planning intent and outcomes in three stages as part of a progressive learner journey: introduce & inspire, investigate & explore, apply & demonstrate.


Click to view

Progressive Modal Progressive

This model acknowledges that different types of workplace experiences achieve different outcomes. The impact of a holistic programme of outcome focused activity is greater than the sum of its parts as it enables relationships to be clarified between elements at different stages – for the young person, the school, and the employer.

Which benefits all stakeholders

A progressive, outcome focused approach to workplace experiences has benefits for everyone:

  • Schools and colleges can map meaningful workplace experiences across the broader careers curriculum. They can plan activities with purpose and intent, ultimately providing more clarity on the value and the impact on wider education priorities.
  • Young people benefit from a personalised learner journey which builds on prior learning and focuses on developing their knowledge, skills, and work-ready behaviours.
  • Employers can map their workplace experiences against the 3 stages to understand their intent and the appropriate depth and content, making links with their own strategic goals. For SMEs and resource constrained employers, the different entry points mean they can contribute without having to commit huge amounts of time.

Using this model to underpin our approach, at CEC we are developing an outcomes framework for workplace experiences. This will; provide a universal definition of quality for everyone, promote equity of outcomes for young people, and be adaptable to support schools and colleges to meet benchmark 6. Ultimately this will give workplace experiences recognised value and drive more targeted and impactful activity across the careers education system.

For more information see:

Updated on 24 May 2024

Employer Standards for Education

Our new framework and tool will help businesses understand what good looks like in careers education, help them inspire young people and prepare them for the world of work. Learn more about the framework below, or to access the self-assessment tool,.