Work experience plays an essential role in preparing young people for the world of work – but what about the benefits for small businesses?

Taking on work experience students can help build a valuable talent pool for businesses, whilst also injecting a team with fresh perspectives and new ideas.

But if you’re an SME, possibly with limited resources to begin with, how can you prepare for your work experience joiners and ensure the experience is a success for them and for your business?

Before your work experience placement arrives:

Assign a member of your team who’ll act as your work placement’s buddy. Regardless of whether someone’s joining you for a week of work experience or for a longer internship, it’s important they know they have a mentor to support them.

Make sure you have somewhere for your work experience placement to sit. Remember the intense courage it took you to ask where the stationery supplies were kept on your first day of work? Don’t put your placement through that; make sure their desk is fully stocked with notebook, pen and anything else they need.

Create an induction plan so that your work placement’s first couple of days aren’t a lonely mix of refreshing their temporary inbox (nope, still just the automatic one welcoming you to Outlook), looking around in the hope that someone will ask them to do something and the tedious hours then spent removing staples from documents.

We jest, but arranging brief induction sessions with members of your team will help a new starter settle in, start to understand more about your business and get started on tasks that will be of value to them and to you.

During their time with you:

Manage your expectations. If your work experience placement is a student straight out of school or college, the chances are they won’t have spent much time in an office environment – and even people with several placements under their belts may be new to your industry or unsure of some office etiquette.

Giving ownership of a task, no matter how small, can boost your work experience placement’s confidence and engagement. How can you challenge them, stretch them and offer an experience they’ll feel was valuable and worthwhile?

Consider how you can enhance your placement’s soft skills – could they be responsible for manning the phones for a few hours a day to improve their communication skills, or be working on multiple projects to strengthen their time management?

After your work experience placement says goodbye:

Finish up their placement with a review. Use it as a chance not only to understand how they found the experience, but also as a reflection of how they perceived your business. People ‘outside’ of your core team can offer real insight into your company culture, onboarding process or management styles.

Also use the review of their work experience to consider how you could improve future work placements. Did your buddy system work? Did they feel their induction was thorough enough? What new skills did they learn?

And keep in touch! Build your own talent pool and touch base with previous work experience placements from time to time over email or LinkedIn. It could be that they come back to you in a full-time capacity when the opportunity arises, or they recommend a friend who’s perfect for the new role you’re recruiting for.

Staying in touch with school, college or University work experience students could also open up the chance for academic-business collaboration, of which we are huge advocates.

A successful work experience placement…

…is going to be unique to each business. But ultimately, your work experience student should be experiencing an interesting and challenging placement with you – one which will see them forging valuable links with a potential employer, developing their industry knowledge and enhancing their wider skills base.

Meanwhile, your business should benefit from additional resources, a fresh new viewpoint and energy and, hopefully, future talent.

Find out more

How we work with the Basingstoke Consortium to enhance employability

Why SMEs play such an important role in apprenticeships

Our top tips for company culture – real ideas from an SME!

Kirsty talks graduate employability and the importance of work experience

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.