1 Work experience works – the evidence
There’s a reason why so many people undertake an internship or other form of work experience… it can help you and your career to progress.
It can help in a range of ways – from allowing you to identify the things you enjoy and the things you don’t, to building useful contacts for future networking.
In this section, you’ll review some of the evidence that shows work experience is definitely worth considering.
Improves your CV
In High Fliers research into the graduate labour market (High Fliers Research Ltd., 2019, p. 23) over a third of the 150-plus leading graduate employers surveyed warned that ‘graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process for their graduate programmes’. In some sectors, such as the media, relevant experience has been essential for years.
In a competitive labour market, employers need some way to differentiate between candidates, and work experience provides that.
Enhances academic achievement
There is a growing body of evidence to support the enhancement of academic achievement following a work placement.
Following their study of students undertaking a year-long, integrated placement at two UK institutions, Jones et al. (2017, p. 988) concluded that this activity has ‘a positive and significant impact on final year academic performance. [The] report estimates in the range of 2–4% across both institutions.’ They add that this is ‘somewhat comparable to other estimates reported in the literature.’
This could be due to placement students gaining:
- a clearer understanding of the value of their academic knowledge in the workplace
- an enhanced work ethic developed during the placement period
- greater motivation to succeed as they now a have a longer-term goal to aim for.
Degree result is an important element of your job applications when you are a new graduate, so combining a potentially improved result with the skill development and experience you’ll also gain is a very positive outcome.
Enhances career readiness
Through enhancing your skills, awareness and confidence, work experience can make you more ‘ready’ for your chosen career.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) defines career readiness as ‘the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace’ (NACE, no date).
Buzzeo (2017, p. 11) confirms that ‘a number of studies have shown how placements can … help young people either to confirm or reject potential career options’.
Whether you are a new graduate or someone with a previous career behind you, you can use work experience to help you decide whether a particular sector or role could work for you or not. Even if your response is negative, it can still be a valuable experience. For example, flipping the negatives can help you to identify what would suit you better.
Closes skills gaps
Research conducted by IBM (LaPrade et al., 2019, p. 4) focuses on the talent shortages and skills gaps reported by executives across a wide range of organisations. The authors emphasise a recent change in the skills seen as most critical for members of the workforce today – shifting from digital to behavioural. In fact, the top four skills highlighted in the report are:
- willingness to be flexible, agile and adaptable to change
- time management skills and ability to prioritise
- ability to work effectively in team environments
- ability to communicate effectively in business contexts.
They also acknowledge that these skills are best developed through ‘practical, real-world experience’. Therefore, internships and work experience programmes are clearly advantageous to both you and the employer.
Another report highlight is the need to recruit employees with a ‘propensity to learn and embrace lifelong learning’. By undertaking work experience of any kind, you are already demonstrating your commitment to learning new skills and gaining experience.
There may also be sector specific skills gaps, so if you have a specific sector in mind for your future career plans, it can be worth searching for any reports on those. You’ll try this next.