is relevant work experience essential? And a grrrrrrrrrrr

(76 Posts)
LettyAshton Mon 12-Nov-12 13:44:12

Ds can't find any work experience for the start of Year 11. He has sent about 20 letters, made as many phone calls, but so far has drawn a blank. Apparently all the kids are really struggling this year and many schools have canned the scheme because so many employers refuse to participate now.

Anyway, onto my grrrrrrrrr: I was speaking to someone yesterday whose dd is applying to top universities but with less than brilliant grades. She has work experience coming out of her ears - but it's all through dint of her parents' connections. She has shadowed a judge at the Old Bailey, spent time at the Inns of Court, covered the court cases for the local paper. It's not fair! Most kids could never get that kind of leg up.

Do universities look favourably on applicants with that kind of stellar work experience? Do they understand that the average student, albeit with excellent academic credentials, can't get into these places without personal contacts?

Yes, even in year 11 it's who you know. Sadly.
When DS1 did his WE those who had parental contacts got good placements and those who were placed by school ended up with seemingly random allocations.
Our local hospital had a work experience programme. DS applied for it and was lucky enough to get a place. Unfortunately they don't do it any more, it was cancelled to save money.

However, his friends who swept up and made tea in local shops ended up with Saturday jobs out of it and DS was envy.

DS2 now at that stage and I'm tempted to point him towards Greggs or similar grin

Kez100 Mon 12-Nov-12 15:40:13

My son has just got relevant experience after 10 rejections (and most of those were because they have a policy of 18+ only). We know no one in the industry, so it wasn't easy at all.

At 15/16 though I do think all experience is relevant. Even a shop or hotel - working with the public, handling money or stock. It is all good stuff. I don't think it hurts to realise that sometimes you have to start at the bottom and work your way up.

JenaiMarrHePlaysGuitar Mon 12-Nov-12 15:42:11

I imagine it's evident to admissions tutors is an applicant has had WE handed to them on a plate <hopeful>

What is he looking to do? Might the Power of MN be able to assist?

Nothingtosay Mon 12-Nov-12 15:46:13

Some of the less obvious employers round here seemed to take on placements when our school ventured out and about last month... the library, the local primary schools, local nurseries, hairdressers, the insurance brokers, taxi company. The most exciting one was shadowing a 'brain surgeon' but all 200 eventually got places. Asda took the last 20 who were struggling so good for them!

creamteas Mon 12-Nov-12 16:04:38

For university admissions it does depend on the subject. For medicine or vet studies it is compulsory of course, but it is unnecessary for many others.

I am an admission tutor for social sciences, and for me work experience does not matter at all. Applicants can say relevant things about sociology and politics from watching TV or reading good newspapers! Law applicants can made interesting comments on observations in a courtroom etc. You don't need WE to have a good application.

At my DC's school now children need to stay in education until 18, they are scrapping WE for Year 10/11 and only having it in Year 12. They are hoping that this will mean there will be more worthwhile places.

lambbone Mon 12-Nov-12 16:05:54

You mention the law quite a bit, OP - is that what your DS wants to do?

webwiz Mon 12-Nov-12 16:15:26

For a "top" university the most important thing is an interest in the subject you want to study and excellent grades. I imagine work experience comes well down the list (unless of course it is something that requires work experience such as vet/medicine) along with expensive trips to rebuild african orphanages.

DS spent his work experience in a scuba shop and the highlight was cleaning the van that they use to transport the scuba gear. It was useful as a (rather chaotic) introduction to the world of work but it has no relevance whatsoever to what he wants to do at university.

Merrylegs Mon 12-Nov-12 16:17:03

No. Don't worry about it, honestly. If he wants to get into a good university, his A levels are the most important thing. He needs to get good AS level results to be predicted good A grades. Obviously he needs to show in his personal statement that he has a passion for his subject. He can show that by the reading he has done around his subject.

WE IS really useful though if he wants to get a Saturday job (which he may well want to do by Year 11). In which case choose a cafe, bakers, restaurant or pub where his work experience may lead on to casual employment. Useful for being gainfully employed in the LONG summer holidays after GCSEs! (How else is he going to earn his V festival ticket money? wink)

JenaiMarrHePlaysGuitar Mon 12-Nov-12 16:20:45

It's quite time consuming having a WE person. I imagine a lot of organisations just don't have the time to devote to it these days.

DilysPrice Mon 12-Nov-12 16:26:07

If interested in law a teen can just go and watch a case off their own bat - magistrates' court probably easiest. Strongly recommended if you want to study law but haven't had relevant work experience because if you admit to never having entered a court room it does indicate "no real interest in subject"/"fatal lack of initiative".

Floralnomad Mon 12-Nov-12 16:26:19

Don't know what your son wants to do but mine did his work experience in a primary school. We'd left it quite late applying and then applied to a few and all but one offered to take him. He may well go into teaching but if he does it won't be at primary level.

LettyAshton Mon 12-Nov-12 17:00:11

I was quite cool about ds's lack of WE replies until this woman started on about how university admissions tutors she had spoken to were so impressed with her dd's placements. Then I felt a bit sad that ds is always going to struggle in that regard.

Ds is 14 so one minute he thinks he might be interested in Law, the next he wants to be Tim Vine confused Perhaps Asda might be a good one to try next.

creamteas Mon 12-Nov-12 17:56:23

Letty as an admission's tutor I might also appear to be impressed by this sort of information given out by pushy parents at Open Days. It is a duty to be polite even when you really want to say something else!

That doesn't mean it has any bearing on the applications grin.

happygardening Mon 12-Nov-12 18:06:39

My DS1 did work experience I contacted about 40 local companies none were interested I eventually realised that you need to go to a very large company with time, people and resources to cope with work experience students. He applied to a very large famous multi national who run three weeks a year work experience programme for school children. Apparently its highly sought after as it does look good on your personal statement/CV. Anyway he got a place along with 8 others and participated in a fabulously organised programme for 1 week he experienced many parts of the company ( he had a fab time but I must say in bore no resemblance to work) and still talks about it even though it was nearly a year ago. At the end he was expected to give a presentation to senior members of the company about what he learnt and best of all they gave him a "reference" that was personal to him not some generic reference that he's since used. We drove 120 miles every day to get him there. It was definitely worth the agro.

eatyourveg Mon 12-Nov-12 18:30:55

We don't have any connections with anyone but ds had a brilliant time working at the CPS in London. He shadowed a barrister for part of the week at Southwark crown court and also went to Westminster magistrates court and said it was like being part of an NCIS team as they had real case studies to discuss. He just looked on the CPS website and the careers woman sorted it. The applications were first come first serve and opened Jan 1st so he had it all filled out and pressed "send" at 9.00 Jan 1st. His school does work experience at odd times so they are not in competition with others vying for the same placements.

Don't give up - the civil service may sound dull but if you can get a relevant department it could prove useful. (ds did his second placement in the forensics dept of the county constabulary again just going on websites and filling in the form the careers woman gave him)

Yellowtip Mon 12-Nov-12 18:35:18

120 miles happy!!!! Good for you but frankly I don't have it in me smile.

I don't see a great divide between super dooper placements which issue from parental connections and tedious workaday scraping the barrel type of ones. A DC with a bit of initiative and perhaps parental input ought to be able to think about what work experience will relate to his likely course of study. The point is to demonstrate tangibly an interest in that course rather than just banging on in a personal statement about 'passion'.

DS did find medical placements difficult to find when he was under 16 in Y11 but applied for an access course at the local hospital once he was 16 and a few things flowed from that. We're not a medical family. The DDs all did interesting things for Law/ History/ Law and each was asked quite extensively about aspects of these placements at interview.

I myself don't underestimate the importance of work experience. Or rather, if you're applying for a competitive course, you can make it important, in demonstrating precisely that interest in the subject that the tutors want to see.

vixsatis Mon 12-Nov-12 18:38:58

Universities need to be convinced of academic interest, not practical work experience (except medicine and vet). I do a lot of graduate trainee interviewing for a big law firm. We think work experience at 16 is pretty meaningless; and we can also spot whose later work experience has been arranged through contacts. We like to see people use their initiative to find experience; and we're quite keen on people who have proved by doing unglamourous placements that they have a bit of grit. Don't worry about the competition; just make sure that he spends his time as constructively as he can and can demonstrate a genuine interest in whatever subject he chooses: reading is good for this, very cheap and almost universally accessible.

vixsatis Mon 12-Nov-12 18:40:47

yellow I couldn't agree more about "passion". Also "relish" and "captivate"

happygardening Mon 12-Nov-12 18:45:47

Yellow it was either that or working at the local garden centre/arable farm/stables none of which would have interested him him the slightest. I would recommend it to anybody in south east/south of UK. We had plenty of notice as to when it was going to be and organised our lives around it as it was only for 1 week they commented in his reference about the fact that he was never late (apparently unlike other who lived up the road) despite coming a very long way.
It really was a fab experience quite fancied myself.

Yellowtip Mon 12-Nov-12 18:47:42

The practical can feed into the academic vixsatis. Having done work experience doesn't preclude reading of course. Mine actually did extra placements each, since interesting opportunities were offered. Not quite sure about this but I think some of the placements DD1 did did may have also come up for discussion at her vac scheme interviews.

Yellowtip Mon 12-Nov-12 18:48:38

'captivate'? grin. Love it.

bigbluebus Mon 12-Nov-12 19:21:17

We didn't have any 'contacts' when looking for a place for DS last year on WE and the school had dithered over whether or not they were carrying on with the scheme or not - so by the time they said they were going ahead, most of the other local schools had already got their letters out.
DS wanted to do something science based - but no laboratories would take him as he was only 15. He eventually (after lots of ignored letters and e-mails) got something with a small family run firm (about 5 staff) who did some product testing. He thoroughly enjoyed it and learned from it. It did involve me ferrying him there and back though as it was not on a public transport route.
Am hoping it will be easier to get a placement in yr 12 as he will be older.

racingheart Mon 12-Nov-12 20:17:26

TBH, I've never known anyone get a great work placement without help. I'm very impressed that your DS has sent his own letters. At our school it was teachers who set up the contacts, and these days it seems to be parents too. But are you really sure you have no contacts? Do you not know any one in the law? The solicitor who sold you your house perhaps? Or anyone who has done legal work for you? Or you best friend's sister's boyfriend's dad? Contacts don't have to be close ones. Any neighbours with contacts?

We've just helped someone get a great placement because DS had done some contract work at two very prestigious places. He doesn't work there and we don't know the WE girl very well, but it was worth a shot. People are so glad to help out, usually. If you really think about it, you will have a network.

Old Bailey contact need not be a judge or QC. It could be a clerk of court or jury bailiff.

babytrasher Mon 12-Nov-12 21:21:08

OP don't worry about pushy parent's DD with all the flashy work experience: shadowing a judge at the OB, spending time in one of the Inns ets reeks of connections and will in reality prob do more harm than good.

Covering court cases for the local paper, on the other hand, is really good - it's low-level, unglamorous and can show real interest & dedication. Most local papers are struggling so would be grateful for regular, reliable copy.

I have experience in this field and would suggest:

Offer to supply a 500 word report once a week for 8 weeks. You will need to negotiate with the school for time for your DC to attend court.

Agree that the paper will not publish the 1st 4 weeks unless they are exceptional; that period establishes the quality and the relaibility of the reporter and their copy.

After 4 weeks the paper either terminates the agreement or agrees to publish unless there is a specific reason not to (which they will explain). The reports should have your DC's byline, as "Student Reporter".

The paper agrees to provide a comprehensive reference.

Not only does your DC then have a constructive and original period of WE, with reference, but it also covers a number of professions. Also, by attending regularly at Court and reporting in the paper under their own byline, your DC will very likely make useful connections in the local legal and press establishment, leading to further WE / references.

I think most Uni Law Depts will be more impressed by a good reference from a local editor or solicitor observing work done than by any number of senior judges or eminent QCs observing bags carried.

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