Government and private sector can support Levelling-Up through virtual work experience

Scaling up the number of work experience placements delivered virtually can meet the government’s objective of spreading opportunity more fairly, argues Speakers for Schools. The social mobility charity is calling on the government to include work experience in its ‘Levelling Up Agenda‘ and asks employers to step forward and commit to delivering more opportunities. 

Mandatory work experience for all students would support the first of twelve missions to increase productivity and employment levels while levelling the playing field in education. Hosting placements virtually would allow young people in all parts of the UK to access it. 

The COVID-19 pandemic saw in-person work experience significantly reduce, necessitating a rapid migration to virtual opportunities. The move to online placements caused numbers to skyrocket. The charity offered 56,000 virtual placements alone in the academic year of 2020/21, much higher than ever possible when delivered in-person before the pandemic.  

Speakers for Schools is now calling on businesses and government to increase the roll-out of virtual work placements across the UK as a way of reaching a broader pool of young people with diverse social-economic backgrounds (SEBs). The charity has resources in place to engage with one million young people annually by 2023 but is calling for 1,500 businesses to step forward and get involved. 

Traditionally, young people often rely on the networks of parents or family members to access work placement opportunities, and they are often concentrated in major cities. However, virtual placements remove geographical barriers, meaning young people in rural or disadvantaged parts of the UK can engage with leading employers based anywhere.  

The top three regions of the UK which have seen the biggest uptick in work experience placements between 2019/20 and 2020/21 are the West of England, followed by the North West and East of England. However, Speakers for Schools wants to see young people from all regions in England have increased access to employers like Spotify, the Bank of England, British Airways and the NHS. 

Jason Elsom, chief executive officer at Speakers for Schools, says the ability to host work experience online has had a major impact on the futures of thousands of young people across the UK, widening access and diversifying early talent pools for employers. The charity argues that mandatory work experience should be part of the government’s Levelling-Up plans. 

Jason said: “The government’s commitment to improving literacy and numeracy, along with providing new youth volunteering opportunities, will play a vital part in the Levelling-Up agenda. We at Speakers for Schools fully endorse and commend this, reflecting our investment into delivering the National Teen Book Club programme and vInspired youth volunteering programmes and vAwards. 

“Regional inequalities exist outside of education which prevent young people from securing top jobs. We know offering work experience has a game changing impact on disadvantaged young people who should be at the forefront of the Levelling-Up agenda.  

“Virtual work experience has removed some of the barriers facing young people in rural or disadvantaged parts of the UK, scrapping unaffordable travel or accommodation costs, which often prevented many young people from experiencing a world beyond their immediate locality. Suddenly, you don’t need to live in London or the South East to engage with big employers, which has a significant impact on social mobility.  

“On the flip side, it allows employers to ensure they’re engaging with young people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, again hugely important if we are to truly Level-Up the country.” 

Josh Evans, 18, recently undertook virtual work experience with British Airways alongside 100 other young people from across the UK. Studying tourism at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, he is keen to pursue a career in tourism, but his hopes were dampened by COVID-19 and its impact on the travel industry. 

Josh said: “Doing work experience online with British Airways was reassuring and eased my constant worry about the pandemic’s impact on my education and career prospects. It has definitely confirmed my aspirations to one day start a career in the tourism industry and I am now more hopeful about this one day becoming a reality.” 

Andrew Law, chair of Speakers for Schools, said: “Speakers for Schools has invested heavily through the pandemic to help deliver work experience and inspiration for young people. They have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and we know it has widened the gap between the most and least privileged in society. Providing the broadest range of career experiences for young people is critical to levelling-up the UK.” 

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