Work placements are a popular activity for TY students, and form an important part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Vocational (LCVP) programmes, as well as Further Education and Training programmes. These placements can be invaluable learning opportunities for students and are often referred to by them as one of the highlights of their school year.
Work placements allow students to not only learn about the world of work and explore possible career options but also to actively develop skills for future enterprise and employability.
Organising a work experience programme for students can be a complex task. Depending on resources available, geographical location and students’ needs, schools and colleges must implement a variety of approaches when organising work placements. For the LCVP and LCA, work placements are an integral part of the programme, typically last one week (LCVP) and two weeks (LCA), and are organized by the programme teachers. For TY and FET students, some schools and colleges prefer to send students out in one or two-week blocks, while others find that a system of a weekly- day release works better.
Sometimes a single teacher or guidance counsellor will be responsible for the programme, while in large schools & colleges the tasks may be divided among a core team. There is no one right approach, but it is essential that responsibility for the programme is clearly allocated so as to ensure a structured and beneficial programme for all.
The online REACH+ and MyFuture+ WorkXperience programmes are designed to streamline the process of organising and delivering an effective work experience for schools and colleges, saving time and resources. These programmes use a whole-school approach, allowing multiple teachers to easily manage as many placements and placement types as they wish.
For details of the WorkXperience programme, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Essential elements of a Successful Programme
In order for your work experience to be successful, a number of key elements need to be addressed:
- Ensuring clear communication about the programme to all parties involved, i.e. students, parents and employers
- Preparing students prior to their work experience so as to ensure that it is a valuable learning experience
- Monitoring – putting in place a system to monitor students when on work placement
- Documenting – ensuring appropriate records and consent forms are kept
- De-briefing and assessing the students on completion of their placement
- Evaluating the programme at the end of the year
The communication process around the whole work experience needs to be handled in a planned and coordinated way so as to ensure that everyone involved and affected is kept fully informed. Students need to be informed of the plans early in the school year so that they have adequate time to prepare and find placements.
Parents need to be informed of proposed dates, insurance issues, consent requirements and may be invited to assist in providing placements where possible (see the worksheet: Work Placements: Parent Guidelines)
Employers need to be communicated with before, during and after placements (see the worksheet: Work Placements: Employers Guidelines)
Staff need advanced notice of the work experience dates, so that they will be prepared for the absence of groups of students. With this information they can then plan for the gaps in their timetables and adjust their lesson plans accordingly.
Sourcing Work Placements
The practice of sourcing work experience placements varies from school to school. Some schools encourage students to find their own work experience placement while others have developed partnerships with local employers. It may be the role of the guidance counsellor or programme coordinator (TY, LCA, LCVP) to assign students to the various placements available or it may be a combination of both approaches.
Ways for the student or school to source work placements:
- Search for placements in the WorkXperience section of this site.
- Contact employers who provided placements for your school students in previous years. If it is the students’ job to source placements, information could be provided to students on where placements were secured previously.
- Approach businesses in the local area to support the school. If the student is making the approach, explain the process of making a phone call and following up with a letter (see the worksheet: Work Placements: Student Worksheet).
- Encourage students to network with family and friends to find out what opportunities might be available. It is usually recommended that students do not opt to work in a family business or where another family member is working. The school can also directly correspond with parents – parents can be a very valuable resource to schools suggesting possibilities, providing contacts and in some cases providing actual placements.
- Many well known organisations and public bodies run transition year work experience programmes every year. They usually have an application process, an early closing date and a lot of interested applicants. Research a list of these organisations and display details with closing dates etc. on the student notice board.
Ideally students should be prepared for work experience through regular timetabled classes where there is an opportunity to
Ways for the student or school to source work placements:
- Introduce them to how the work experience links in to the school curriculum
- Explain the objectives of the work experience
- Help them develop an understanding of the personal and key skills required in the workplace
- Guide them in how to research and source placements
- Advise on appropriate behaviour and health and safety issues during placement
- Inform them of assignments they will need to undertake before, during, and after the work experience, e.g. logbooks or diaries.
Getting the most out of the Placement
There is much that can be learned during the course of a work experience if students are appropriately prepared and know what to look out for. The LCA and LCVP programmes have specific learning outcomes associated with work placements, and credits are awarded to students for their final Leaving Cert exam.
The WorkXperience programme encourages the development of a range of Key Skills as set out by the NCCA/QQI. Students using the WorkXperience Diary and Workbook (available from CareersPortal) can engage with their work experience to complete a range of useful activities aimed at determining whether a particular line of work appeals to them or not.
Before, During & After
Before the Placement
Organising a work experience programme takes considerable organisation on behalf of the school, college, teachers and guidance counsellors involved. Well in advance, teachers have to agree timetables with other programmes, and may have to stagger classes so that all students get an opportunity.
Once timetables have been established, the appropriate paperwork (insurance forms, consent forms, letters of request etc.) must be updated and prepared.
Teachers also must decide on the level of preparation in advance of any placements - which may be difficult if placement dates are set early in the academic year, or if there are limited classroom times available.
Teachers also have to log details of each student's placement, and may decide to communicate with all employers. It is the responsibility of the teacher to know the whereabouts of all students, and to be able to contact students or parents whenever necessary.
During the Placement
The extent to which schools or colleges can monitor students while on work experience will vary depending on school resources and the number of students on work experience. A short visit by a member of staff to a student on work experience can be important in reassuring students, employers and parents of the value the school places on the work experience programme.
It provides an opportunity for the teacher/coordinator to observe the workplaces at first-hand which can help when reviewing any subsequent employer feedback reports. It also helps to strengthen the links between the school and local employers.
When making initial contact with employers, whether it is through direct phone contact or an information sheet that the student makes available to the employer, make sure to advise that you may wish to visit the premises while the student is on placement. Where it is not feasible to visit every student while on work placement, it is advisable to make phone contact with the employer and separately with the student to ensure that the placement is going smoothly.
Students and employers should also be clearly advised as to what process should be followed if a student is absent from the placement for any reason or if an incident or accident occurs. Teachers may opt to contact some employers and students during the active work experience period. Some students may report difficulties, and some employers may also run into difficulty maintaining the placement.
It is an especially good idea to contact employers who are offering work placements for the first time, to ensure that all is going well. Such calls communicate the concern and commitment of a school to a successful programmme, and increase the likelihood of a satisfying experience for both the employer and student. It may also open the possibility of the employer offering a subsequent placement at a later date.
After the Placement
One of the principal tasks after the placement is to retrieve feedback/evaluation forms from employers. These may have been issued to the employer in advance of the placement or during it, and can alternatively be photocopied from the WorkXperience Diary and Workbook (if used by the student) and given to the employer by the student. These are typically posted to the school directly, and form an essential part of the evaluation of the overall programme.
After the completing any evaluations with the students (see Debriefing and Evaluation), teachers should update their employer and student records. If appropriate, students should be issued with their evaluation forms and a certificate of participation from the school.
Debriefing & Evaluation
To complete the learning process, it is important for students to have the opportunity to reflect on their experience and what they gained from it. This might take the form of written assignments (in the case of LCA & LCVP), completing evaluation worksheets or simply engaging in a classroom discussion. Some of the debriefing questions which students should discuss are:
- How the experience has influenced them or changed their perspective.
- The skills they used, observed, needed.
- Competencies they may need to improve on.
- Insights they gained into the world of work.
- How relevant the experience is to their subject choices and future career decisions.
Getting each student to present a summary of their experience to the whole class is recommended as it develops many core skills as well as providing insight into the working life of a variety of career areas to all students.
Most schools also give students a copy of the employers evaluation form provided by the employer. This provides useful feedback about the student from the employers perspective.
Students should also be encouraged as part of the completion process to write ‘Thank You’ letters to the employers.
Participation in work experience programmes would normally form part of a student’s overall assessment at the end of a school year. Students' diaries and reports, employers’ reports and perhaps notes made by a visiting teacher could all form part of the assessment. In addition the assessment should reflect the effort a student has put into the whole process from preparation to evaluation.