Viewpoint: Work experience goes virtual

Young people did not have to miss out.

Virtual work experience, including an online Dragon’s Den, has provided crucial support for the young people we work with at the EY Foundation, some of whom have been the hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Faced with office closures and staff working from home, we had to quickly adapt our programme of face-to-face work experience following the pandemic.

We help young people from low-income backgrounds into work, and for many, the chance to spend a week with companies such as digital software pioneers Blue Prism and global law firm Linklaters makes a huge difference to their life chances.

Just a few weeks after lockdown we ran a series of online skills and career workshops for young people across the UK, and then a new six-week virtual business mentoring programme for our former students. This provided us with the insight to deliver our established work experience programmes remotely over the summer holidays. This included all the benefits of our face-to-face programme, including employability skills training, work experience and business mentoring. To do this successfully there were three main areas to think about:

Communications – Making sure our young people knew we were still there for them, that they would still be able to participate and be supported by us. We contacted them all individually at the start of lockdown to let them know what we were planning.

Content – Our delivery team set about reviewing how our traditional face-to-face programmes could be adapted to an online format and respond to the concerns that had been identified. To ensure we reflected the needs of young people, we worked with employer partners and our Youth Advisory Board, a group of young people from across the country who advise the Foundation.  

Tech – We quickly made sure all our young people had the technology they needed to join us remotely, which we did by providing each of them with their own laptop and webcam during the programme, which were delivered to their homes.

We have had great feedback, with young people saying that in many ways virtual work experience made them more confident with real-life remote working tools, and taught them how to work as a team, even when not in the same location.

The virtual work experience is paid and contributes to a qualification from the Chartered Management Institute. This delivery model also widens opportunities as it increases accessibility for employers who do not live nearby to support young people and pass on their experience. For this reason, elements of the virtual process may be retained beyond Covid-19.

To further develop this approach, we are working with the Learning & Work Institute to assess the impact of moving to digital delivery, with initial findings expected in mid-September 2020. Employers gain a tremendous amount from working with us, from increasing the motivation and skills of their staff through coaching young people, to accessing a diverse pool of exciting young talent and future business leaders.

Employers or charities who would like to get involved, please get in touch. We work in 17 locations across the UK and our summer virtual work experience Smart Futures programme ran across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and Luton, with more than 200 young people participating this year.

Maryanne Matthews is CEO, The EY Foundation.

Picture Credit | iStock

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