Virtual work experience is one of the early talent industry’s hottest topics, and has been building momentum throughout the pandemic due to the lack of in-person opportunities.
However, even as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the world returns to its ‘new normal’, virtual work experience offers significant advantages for students, schools, and employers alike.
We take a look at some of the benefits that come from online work experience programmes, how they work in practice and what the future might look like.
Benefits of Virtual Work Experience
One of the main benefits of work experience programmes moving online is that they are able to break the geographical constraints that previously existed with this type of initiative. Employers can now reach students in areas outside of their typical catchment zone and broaden the search to include underrepresented talent that would not have previously been discovered or considered. Now, students in Cornwall can be considered and offered coveted virtual work experience places by multinational organisations based in Canary Wharf. There are now no limits!
This type of activity opens businesses up to a wealth of undiscovered talent, gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to discover the new opportunities available to them and provides schools in underserved areas with the resources they need to help students maximise their full potential. In fact, virtual work experience programmes are ‘levelling up’ some of the UK’s ‘cold spots’, providing opportunities and job prospects in areas that had typically been void of this type of activity. Tangibly, this is working to address the historical challenge, ‘talent is everywhere, opportunity is not’.
Businesses who see work experience programmes as more than just a CSR venture will open themselves up to a broader, more diverse talent pool. And by moving initiatives online, the size of this talent pool is significantly larger. The value this adds to a business is undisputed. Amongst the raft of evidence confirming the benefits of creating a diverse workforce is a 2017 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study that identified diversity as a key driver of innovation, finding that diverse teams produce 19% more revenue.
Virtual Work Experience in Practice
Virtual work experience offers two types of online interaction. ‘Live’ work experience includes real-time talks and presentations, giving students the opportunity to interact directly with experts, ask them questions and learn from real-life examples. The second option is ‘always on’ work experience (also known as open access). This provides young people with the opportunity to access learning materials and content at a time that best suits them.
No matter the avenue taken, it is important that any virtual work experience programme is aligned with schools’ needs. For example, programmes that incorporate a blend of both ‘live’ and ‘always on’ interactions are valuable because they help schools meet their Gatsby benchmark obligations. In fact, schools will prioritise, and often only promote virtual work experience programmes where there is the opportunity for the student to engage with the employer directly. This interaction is critical if employers want schools to promote and support their programme.
There are still too many work experience programmes that don’t offer a two-way dialogue, simply providing content for students to read, with no follow up or conversation. Not only does this not help schools hit their Gatsby obligations, but it also doesn’t facilitate engagement with the students or offer them any real-life experience.
Given that transparency and authenticity are two of the key elements of a strong candidate experience, this is something that needs to be addressed. On top of this, research shows that candidates trust a company’s employees three times more than the organisation itself, making ‘live’, human interaction during the virtual work experience programmes vital.
Connectr was one of the first organisations to realise this disparity and we launched our virtual work experience offering to counter this. We have numerous examples of our virtual work experience best practice, including recent initiatives with Deloitte and Cisco which have yielded fantastic results.
Working with Deloitte, we specifically engaged with sixth form students that were less likely to have access to accountancy jobs. As part of the programme, the students were able to gain insight from valuable online workshops, as well as receive continued support from mentors within the company, all through our digital mentoring platform.
Similarly, we worked with Cisco to create a virtual work experience programme designed to inspire and engage disadvantaged students to pursue careers within the technology sector. It has been a roaring success, with the programme inspiring 72% of participants to pursue a career in technology after school.
Challenges of Virtual Work Experience
Whilst virtual work experience is revolutionising the way students, schools and businesses across the globe are able to interact, there are still challenges that need to be overcome. Chiefly, access to tech.
The benefits of moving work experience initiatives online have been brilliant. However there are still many disadvantaged people that don’t have access to a computer, or if they do, it is often shared between a whole household.
This level of ‘digital poverty’ has improved vastly in the last 18 months, as schools have been provided with significant funding to provide students with their own laptops. We’re also seeing proactive organisations, such as Deloitte, provide students participating in its work experience programmes with the tech they need to succeed.
Bandwidth is the next problem. Often living in rural and remote areas of the UK, students might simply not have the broadband capabilities to interact with mentors, complete online modules and download relevant content on a daily basis.
Connectr recognised this problem early and designed its virtual work experience content so that the videos and talks don’t require a high bandwidth, therefore using up very little data in the process.
The Future of Virtual Work Experience
The world of work has changed irreversibly. We no longer have to live in the area where our company is based. Remote working is here to stay.
Work experience is about helping students learn what the world of work is like, so it makes perfect sense for virtual work experience programmes to become increasingly popular as we move forward. They directly mirror what the future of work is going to look like, providing students with incredibly valuable insights.
Certainly, forward-looking employers are becoming more strategic when it comes to work experience, viewing these programmes as an effective starting point to hire more diverse talent down the line.
The very best organisations are starting to offer a blend of ‘live’ virtual work experience, which include talks and being assigned tasks, and ‘always on’ experiences, where students can access content at a time suitable to them.
For students, schools and employers, virtual work experience is revolutionising the world of work, providing opportunities and connections that simply would not have been possible before.
Find out more about how Connectr can help your organisation deliver new ways of forming connections here.