Students urged to focus on longer work experience for employability boost

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Careers expert Prospects, part of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), asked more than 8,000 school and university students, and graduates about job hunting, work experience, apprenticeships and further study.


  • Half of college students had undertaken work experience despite the government recommendation for two experiences by age 18.
  • Students are more likely to find work experience valuable for their career if it is at least four weeks and paid.
  • 64% of university students have worked unpaid.

    Prospects’ Early Careers Survey 2018 found that just half of school and college students had undertaken work experience, although sixth form/college students were 31 percentage points more likely to have work experience than GCSE students (33%). The government recommends that by the age of 18, students should have at least two experiences of the workplace, additional to any part-time job they may have had.

    The duration of their work experience was often less than a month (76%) and unpaid (88%). Those who were unpaid were more likely to work for less than four weeks (82%). This group was most likely to feel that their work experience was not valuable for their career progression.

    While just 39% of university students had undertaken work experience, of those who did, 62% had done at least a month. The majority (64%) had worked unpaid, of which nearly half (41%) had worked for more than four weeks. In many cases students who worked unpaid felt that they had little choice, reporting it as a necessity to get on.

    Across all age groups, students who had undertaken paid work found it more valuable than those who had not been paid. However, those who were paid also tended to be employed for a longer period of time. Students who gained work experience for longer than four weeks were more likely to state that it was useful for their career. This suggests that length of placement could influence how valuable work experience is.

    Last week the Institute of Student Employers reported that employers are increasing opportunities and investing more in internships. Work experience is a valuable route to employment with 94% of employers encouraging interns to return as employees.

    Jayne Rowley, Chief Executive of Prospects and HECSU said: “Employers no longer view academic achievements in isolation; they want to see evidence of skills and an understanding of what it is like to work. The longer the placement, the greater the benefit. We must encourage more students to undertake work experience of at least four weeks to give the desired boost to their career prospects.”