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  • Writer's pictureBen Mason

The future of student work experience post covid - should digital replace physical?

Updated: Jun 20

What does the future of work experience look like? Back to what we’ve always done, or a slight twist? Covid has forced every sector to re-evaluate how they use technology to deliver their services, but also, how they manage their people. Like all things, this has resulted in more effective use of time, better work-life balance, a greater reach to internal teams and customers without the limitation of travel. However, it has also had some negative impacts such as lack of human interaction, no quick catch-ups over the coffee machine, a less personal approach to business or employees. Employers, in many cases, have the opportunity / difficulty of deciding what the best balance will be in the post covid world of industry. This will also be influenced by the type of employee they are dealing with and their personal / emotional needs and the ability to balance virtual and physical working environments.

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We are also seeing the positives and negatives of covid affecting how industry interacts with education and emerging talent. One area of great importance for many companies is the need to widen accessibility to their opportunities and career pathways. Digital can widen participation and overcome many barriers around reach, accessibility, diversity and inclusion. Where this might prove instantly attractive to the world of industry is that, for all the right reasons, it ticks a number of very important boxes. However, this is not the same view coming out of education, which is desperate to get back to physical engagements with industry to inspire the next generation. It appears that in many cases, industry wants virtual and education wants physical. So who will win as we adapt to life post covid, the push or the pull?

What is agreed, is the need for employer encounters as a means to inform and educate students about what their future could look like. However, most importantly, it is an opportunity to inspire young people and the next generation. As quoted many times before, research from the Education and Employers charity suggested young people who remember four or more encounters with employers during school are 86% less likely to become NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) than those who report less. Four or more employer encounters also means earning up to 18% more in careers.

So work experience and employer encounters are vital in order to prepare emerging talent for the world of work, to inspire young people and ensure we reduce the number of young people becoming NEET. This is why we created our globalbridge Future Stars event.

“It made me excited about my future’

Student, Future Stars 2021

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For years I’ve listened to various groups discuss (if not argue) over the word ‘meaningful’. Careers – what is meaningful?

Work experience - what is meaningful?

Encounters – what is meaningful?

One reason why the word ‘meaningful’ continues to be debated is because what is meaningful to me, might not be meaningful to the next person. To offer a meaningful employer encounter to a young person is only meaningful if it has some value to the young person, their interests or the shaping of their opinion that helps inform choice…….in their eyes.

So how does what we know about digital and physical work experience in a post covid world, affect the meaningfulness of an encounter for young people? Will we go back and do what we’ve always done? If so, will this result is all the issues that we’ve always had, the industry disconnect and skills gap that has been talked about for years? Or, is there a chance we might move forward stronger?

In my work, I spend a lot of time in education but also in industry and, post covid, there is a shift in opinion. Many businesses are looking to progress with virtual work experience in order to widen participation addressing many D,E&I aspirations. Education, however, is wanting to go back to physical work experience. What is better, a physical, face to face work experience with a blue chip company, where you are photocopying / hole punching all week, or a digital work experience with Richard Branson and being set an entrepreneurial challenge? Similarly, is a virtual encounter with Mark Zuckerburg where the internet drops out or Mark leaves his mic on mute, better than a physical encounter with a local chip shop owner, which just happens to be run by a woman who left school at 16 with no qualifications, raised investment on her own and is now the owner of 20 chip shops and still only 23 years of age? Surely, it’s all about the quality of delivery and the meaningfulness to the young person.

So, what does the future hold? Well, surely it’s got to be a mixture and balance of both physical and digital. The holy grail might be a physical work experience with Mark Zuckerburg or a successful chip shop entrepreneur, but no school has a network of industry big enough to ensure such an opportunity for every student. Whether it’s physical or digital, the young person can have a meaningful encounter. It is surely the delivery of the work experience and the engagement of the industry partner that makes the encounter meaningful. So whether we move forward with digital or physical, it feels like both education and industry need to understand a balance between the two is required in order to retain the benefits of physical work experience, but also the reach and accessibility digital enables.

diversity equity and inclusion in the workplace

In my opinion, I believe that one vital aspect of the whole process, is the ability for the young person to build a portfolio of evidence from their encounter which can help them not only retain the benefits of the experience, but also use this as endorsement for future applications. In the same way adults can build a portfolio of experiences on LinkedIn, young people need the equivalent for education in order to successfully navigate through the emerging talent space. This is where they can evidence the meaningfulness of their encounters, what they have actively done to demonstrate their enthusiasm beyond the classroom, but also, how this has developed their experience and understanding of the industry sector. It’s not just a paper CV which is attached as a word document either. Young people live in a digital world and have the ability to demonstrate their talents beyond words, whether this be employer encounters, their character or leadership skills, or their ability to demonstrate a curricular or non- curricular subject.

This article isn’t just a commentary on the issues or discussion about what the future might look like, it actually contains a solution! Here at globalbridge, we believe students should be able to develop and build a digital portfolio of evidence throughout their time at school or college. This digital record of their achievements should enable them to evidence character, skills, aspirations alongside work experience, employer encounters, academic achievement or none traditional skills. We also believe that digital and physical encounters both have a place in a post covid word. You can join over 10,000 young people who have already signed up to our #GBFutureStars event this Thursday, 12th May and see the power of a digital engagement. We’ll even follow-up with evidence which the young people can to add to their digital record.



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