Viewpoint: Work placement schemes – what is your experience?


Cllr Karl Eastham from Southwark Council hopes to increase the job prospects of the young people in his borough with a work placement scheme. As he explains, he would be very interested to hear from anyone who has had experience in setting up or being involved in similar programmes around the country.

Southwark Labour was elected on a manifesto to create 5,000 more local jobs and 2,000 new apprenticeships, but we are often told that young people do not have the skills necessary to take up the well-paid positions on offer. And in a city increasingly dominated by the super-rich, it can be difficult for young people from an ordinary background to have the social capital, or the foot in the door, to top jobs. People can only aspire to good careers if there is a realistic prospect of accessing them.

As Deputy Cabinet Member for Careers and Employability in Southwark, I want to give ordinary school leavers the chance to experience, and find ways into, the employers who will provide the jobs and growth that we have promised. My aim is to roll out a School Leavers Work Placement scheme for pupils in year 11 once they have finished their GCSEs. It would take place before the six week summer holiday, so as not to disadvantage those students looking for other holiday work. Placements would last around four weeks and provide an insight into careers which students might otherwise not have thought about. A good reference and a mention on the CV will also prove invaluable.

The idea is still in its infancy, and there are many possible manifestations, which is why I am appealing to councillors and other parties across the country for examples of such schemes already in place in their local authority which we in Southwark could learn from. Particular challenges and questions spring immediately to mind.

The biggest is funding. There is little money for this, and I do not immediately see positive steps of (financial or otherwise) encouragement from government. We will need to look at making this self-funding, particularly with a view to schools and businesses contributing to the cost.

But why should they pay? Well, clearly there are huge advantages for both schools and businesses to take part. Businesses need students who are ready to work for them, and who are enthusiastic to come back in the future. Schools need students to be hopeful, aspirational and outward looking. You achieve that by giving students the belief that they can get a place with an employer they are excited to work for.

What better way for a business to show its commitment and responsibility to the people of the borough, than to offer opportunity to its young people? And what better way for a school to bring to life the opportunities that are available to our young people on their doorstep?

There is also a question of timing. Year 11 is a packed time, and many of the students who could take advantage of this project will not want to take time out from study. The placements would need to be after GCSEs but before students start the summer holiday with other students in July. This gives around four weeks where students in London are still receiving free travel, and will not be starting on their summer paid work plans.

As a living wage borough, we need to look with potential partners at how to ensure young people are not exploited, or used for menial tasks with no future benefit.

So this is the idea. An idea that could benefit from the knowledge of colleagues who have similar schemes in place in their local authorities, or input from those who see potential problems on the horizon. Solutions would, of course, be appreciated. Please let me know if you are an employer, an education provider, or a councillor who is interested in the project, or could give some advice. You can contact me at or @karleastham.

Watch this space for developments through the year.

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    1. I admire your thinking and promotion of the scheme. Work placement is very difficult. I have experienced it with my two children, in my old workplace a Telecomms company and more recently with a Healthcare Trust where I was a volunteer and also with two charities of which I am an involved Trustee. Firstly, I think that you will find it difficult to get anybody to pay for a work placement. Employers look upon it as a gift and favour and schools look at it also as doing a favour for the pupil. I am basically talking about office work. Usually the staff at these places look upon the student as a nuisance as it stops them from getting on with their work. Having to explain what you do at work to a youngster is hard work. The way out for the staff is to give them menial easy tasks, usually photocopying, filing or cleaning up or clearing out. All tasks enough to put a student off work for good. Sometimes you get a really good member of staff who puts in a lot of effort but it often gets them a black mark by their boss. Before arranging a work placement, please visit the employer and discuss how they will employ and teach the student. Also please make sure that the student wants to work in that type of work.

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