How your company can benefit from work experience and apprenticeship placements

Young person in a job interview

If you’re having trouble finding the right people for your business, taking on temporary staff through these schemes can help.

Recruiting the right kind of employees for your business can be a nightmare. Britain’s biggest companies warned this year that, despite, a record number of graduates entering the job market, many of them lack the basic skills needed for employment.

One way to make sure you get the right people with the right skill sets for your company is to get involved in one of the many work training or apprenticeship schemes available. According to the latest research by, 73% of businesses questioned have recruited students on a permanent basis as a result of work experience placements.

“We see internships as a year-long interview” says Jason Stoop, sales manager of “Because our interns have exactly the same responsibility as our permanent staff, we know after a year that we can trust them and that they understand what we are all about.”

Work-experience students and apprentices can also bring innovation to your organisation – they’re up to date with the latest knowledge and technical expertise. What’s more, they’re often highly motivated individuals and keen to impress a potential employer.

Types of work experience

Work experience comes in many forms. The most common is the sandwich placement where undergraduates are placed for one year in businesses that relate to their degree subject. If this sounds like too much of a commitment, you could take a graduate on a vacation placement for a couple of months. In fact, most employers offer work experience placements of less than six months.

For specific project-based tasks (setting up a website for your business, or carrying out a piece of market research, for example) you could go down the intern route. Interns are employed for a specific timeframe to carry out a specific project.

Work placements can be both paid and unpaid. According to the latest statistics from, almost three quarters of employers offer salaries to work experience students. Just over half offer between £10,000 and £14,999 (pro rata), while 20% pay less than £10,000.

If all of these options sound like a big commitment in time, effort and money for your organisation, why not investigate work shadowing. Work shadowing usually takes just a couple of days and involves a student observing someone doing their day-to-day job. This can be a good way to find suitable new employees – after two days you should know if this is the kind of person you might want in your business. Few companies have official work shadowing schemes. However, you could try contacting your local university to see if they can help track down suitable candidates.

What about apprenticeships?

If your business needs staff with practical skills, then the apprenticeships programme is well worth exploring. Apprenticeships make sure that young people have the right practical skills for your business. The programmes are designed by employers and can be tailored to meet employer’s needs. They can be a cost effective way to boost skill levels among your workforce and are available for new and existing employees.

Apprentices learn through a combination of on and off-the-job education and training. On the job, they work alongside your staff, and the rest of the time they learn from a local learning provider, usually on a day-release basis.

Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail, employs over 600 apprentices each year and he’s been surprised by the kind of return on investment he’s getting. BT Retail saves over £1,300 on recruitment per apprentice. What’s more, within BT Engineering, the apprenticeship teams show the highest level of satisfaction – currently running at 85%.

Managing work experience staff

To get the best from a work placement you need to plan for their arrival. Around 65% of small-to-medium sized businesses that ran internships or short-term placements last summer felt they should have been better prepared for their intern, according to a survey by consultants Begbie Traynor.

These tips should help:

  • To make sure you get the best people for your business put any interns/work experience staff through a selection process. Pick the ones most likely to add value.
  • Define a clear role for them within your business and make sure this is clearly explained. This should make your intern more productive and will certainly make them easier to manage.
  • Involve the interns, don’t just give them menial admin tasks.
  • Give interns a proper induction to your company and your ICT systems.
  • Give a permanent member of staff responsibility for co-ordinating placements along with their training and supervision.
  • Work out if you want interns to answer the phone and deal with clients – can you trust an inexperienced person to handle your customers?

Manage the risks

While it might seem like you’re getting an extra member of staff on the cheap it is important that you recognise there are drawbacks to work placements. Before deciding whether or not to take on an intern or apprentice:

  • Make sure you have the space and the equipment for an intern?
  • Consider how much disruption they will cause your full-time staff and to what extent they could distract them from their day-to-day tasks?
  • Someone will need to make time to supervise, manage and provide support to work experience staff, so factor the extra demands on staff time into your decision.
  • As an employer, you have a similar duty of care on health and safety issues to volunteer workers as to permanent staff, so make sure your employer’s liability and public liability insurance policies cover work placements.

Where to go next

Shell Step Programme This scheme specialises in matching undergraduates with small-to-medium sized companies offering project-based work (typically around eight weeks). Students are paid directly by a local Shell Step agent and don’t appear on your payroll. However, you will be invoiced for their services at the start of the programme.

Read ‘Work Experience: A Guide for Employers’ here.(Department for Education and Skills)

Graduate Opportunities Wales Organises work placements for students and graduates with an address in Wales. It also runs work taster schemes that cost the employer nothing and normally last just a few days.

Learning and Skills Council – Apprenticeships Details of the apprenticeships available across more than 80 industry sectors. Also has a guide for employers.

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