3 minutes

Virtual Work Experience: An educator’s experience

It’s becoming increasingly essential that young people leave school not only with good grades, but the skills and experience that employers value. A survey by the Careers & Enterprise Company found that 74% of teachers say employability skills are now the most important way to improve pupils’ career prospects, compared to 62% who say good academic grades are, and more than three in five teachers say opportunities for young people to meet a range of employers from different sectors and learn about their jobs will be all the more vital now [1]. 

That’s where Virtual Work Experience aims to help – this interactive tool simulates a day in a real workplace; it’s designed to help young people feel prepared for the real thing and complement any placements they’re able to secure. Working through the tool, students have the opportunity to interact with people from different departments of a digital transformation agency, solving problems and completing real-life tasks.

Lin Proctor, the Raising Aspirations Director of Future Academies, explains how she’s used the tool with her own students.

Lin’s story

"I used Virtual Work Experience during breakout sessions as part of a CV writing lesson for particularly hard-to-reach students aged 16-17. The aim was to get them familiar with the skills they’ll need to impress employers; and not only that, but also the skills they already have that they may not have identified as qualities a business would value.

This is something I find my classes often struggle with. For example, if I had a pound for every time a student failed to mention a sports team, school production or band they’d been involved in when asked how they could demonstrate team work, I wouldn’t need a job! That becomes even more noticeable when talking about core transferable skills such as communication, creativity and problem solving; students simply don’t always realise what skills they have which fit these categories.

So, I’m always on the look-out for any tools that can help students understand that they do have the skills employers are looking for, skills they can nurture and develop to become highly employable. That’s why I was really keen to trial the Virtual Work Experience tool in my session, as I think it is particularly helpful for young people to see work skills applied within the context of ‘real life’ examples and delivered by role models that they can relate to.

After an initial group discussion, students were sent away to have a go with the tool. At the end, we came back and reflected on how they had found it and what they had learnt. The visual and interactive aspect was a feature the students and I especially liked, as it gave them an insight into a workplace that felt both tangible and relevant. 

The students really enjoyed using the tool and were really engaged; they also felt that they were able to draw some valuable learnings from the exercise. One said, ‘it was really helpful to gain an insight into what work experience will look like and has given me the confidence to go and look for opportunities’.

It’s great to see this kind of useful, innovative content being made available to help educators boost students’ careers education."

Lin’s top tips for getting the most out of the tool in your classroom:

  • Use break-out sessions to divide the lesson up, and encourage discussion in between each – you can also try the accompanying discussion guide, which gives step by step support to do this
  • If students are finding any parts too hard, remind them to use the tips in the tool; they can also work as groups
  • Check on students and see if any are finding sections particularly challenging – collect a list which you can put to the class at the end, and see if you can work through those problem together

Help extend your students’ virtual work experience journey by also encouraging them to use our independent activity exploring different job sectors and the skills required. We have also created teacher guidance to help provide feedback on their worksheets.

Alternatively, your students can watch our online lesson around how a bank works, and our short films where they have the opportunity to meet 5 Barclays colleagues in a wide variety roles talking about what it is like to work in finance and the core transferable skills they use.

[1] Workplace skills now more important than exam results in post-Covid jobs market say teachers, The Careers & Enterprise Company, 7 July 2020  https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/news/workplace-skills-now-more-important-exam-results-post-covid-jobs-market-say-teachers

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