Everyone remembers something about work experience from school – some hated it, some loved it, some avoided it at all costs (that would be me) and some learnt important life lessons about employer/employee relationships that they still apply in their own workplace today.
Work experience for young people with a trauma background is valuable but can be tricky to organise and support. Often, it can be their first experience ever in a workplace and there is not always a model in the home to show how “working” actually works in real life. These are things I have learnt over the past 8 weeks while trying to arrange 21 supported placements for young people in work places:
– We need to set realistic expectations with the workplace. They need to understand our context and our students experiences. They also need to feel valued and supported to encourage them to take on this opportunity and potentially change a young persons life
– getting students to initially engage has been tricky. My approach was to ask what they were interested in and work from there. My principal prefers the approach of encouraging them to have a go at something and it’s okay not to like it…I like the fundamental idea of that but found it almost impossible to engage the young people with that notion. We had a lot of refusal initially which slowly changed as more students got on board.
– Organising it as a group had been hellish on me (over 200hrs extra on my normal load so far) but has so many incidental benefits. Students talk to each other about how they feel, they help each other when struggling, they are all excited TOGETHER and that’s helped the momentum build. They are all completing pre-work experience week activities as a group and it’s been a real relationship builder
– not every kid will be able to do individual work experience at this point. I had the initial goal of getting all 21 into a workplace for at least one day but the current estimate is 15 will go, 2 are non-attending at this time and 4 are not ready. Yet. So they will come to school in that week instead.
– workplaces and young people need (and want) direct contact numbers for our help during the work experience week. Sure, the form says it’s the parents responsibility to collect them in an emergency but that doesn’t really help in the moment when someone is overwhelmed
– transport is, and always will be, a big issue for our students and they families. Drawing the line between supporting them in what might be a first ever workplace interaction and not being relied on too much is tricky. Not to mention the staffing issues on our end….this is something I need to put a lot more thought into for next time to try and get right
– the young people I am arranging to send out are all year 10s. As the younger students have heard them talk about it positively, they have asked for work experience opportunities as well
– Transition is a big focus for us. Into, through and out of the school. Work experience is a part of that but is not the sum (although right now it feels like it is to me!!) and we have to keep focused on the end goal. I’m still working on how I want to manage transitions as an overall process for each young person.
The greatest positive of this first-run work experience program for our students will be that the young people who do complete some/all days will be able to experience success in a REAL WORLD ENVIRONMENT! We try to ensure they experience success at school regularly but it is a somewhat artificial environment – modified learning, adjusted assessment, understanding staff – whereas this is a real, tangible, authentic experience they can build on.
I think I will have to come back after work experience week runs (18-22nd of June) and update how it went.