We’ve put together this short guide to help you understand the different types of work experience that are available to school leavers and how you can apply for them.

When should I start thinking about my work experience?

Like most things in life, it’s best if you think about work experience as soon as possible. Don’t worry though if you’ve already left school or college without arranging a work experience placement as it’s never too late to find one.

If you’re still at school or college and not thinking of staying on in education please make sure to talk to your teachers. They should be able to offer you support and advice to help make sure you make the choice that’s right for you.

Work experience options

There are lots of different ways of obtaining work experience as a school leaver, whether you’ve already left school or college or are still in education. Here’s an overview of the main options available to you.

Tip: Before you start it might be a good idea to get a better understanding of what kind of career you are interested in. A handy site for this is Plotr, which contains lots of useful information and a quiz to help you narrow down your list of options.

1. Applying for a work experience placement organised by your school or college

Your school or college may be more familiar with arranging traditional two-week work experience placements than helping school leavers find work experience but if you’re still at school or college it’s still worth exploring what support you can access.

Even if your school or college has links with employers, they may still expect you to apply to the employer to confirm your placement. This is especially true if the employer does not traditionally offer work experience to school leavers.

Advice on how to go about applying for a work experience placement can be found in the next two sections.

2. Applying formal work experience placements advertised by businesses

Many well-known large businesses operate their own work experience programmes that go beyond traditional two-week placements for school and college students. Tesco’s Launch programme, for example, is aimed at young people who are not in education, employment or training.

The easiest way to find out whether an organisation operates its own work experience programme is by searching for the name of the business online followed by the words work experience. This will direct you to a page on their website, explaining how students should go about applying for a placement.

It’s important you read the eligibility criteria for a programme before applying for work experience. Some programmes welcome applications who have left school or college while others are restricted to people who are still in full-time education or training while others welcome applications.

3. Approaching businesses that don’t advertise work experience opportunities

Don’t let the fact that a business does not advertise work experience opportunities put you off from asking if they’ll take you on!

For example, small and medium-sized businesses account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK but may not have the time to formally advertise work experience placements every year. If you’re interested in what a business does, it’s worth contacting them to see if they’d offer you work experience.

How you approach contacting a business will vary from business to business. It can be a good idea to speak to the manager or owner, either in person or by phone, before making a formal application. Speaking to a person beforehand should give you an idea of whether a business is open to offering work experience. Should your initial contact be positive, you can then ask the business whether they would like you to make a formal application.

Although it’s often better to speak to a business beforehand, don’t be afraid to send off speculative emails to businesses you are especially keen to work for. A brief email  explaining why you want to do work experience at the business, along with your CV, demonstrates your initiative and self-motivation, two qualities employers value greatly.

4. Applying for work experience offered by the Prince’s Trust

The Prince’s Trust charity works in conjunction with leading businesses to transform young people’s prospects. They currently operate two different work experience programmes:

  • Get Into – a work experience programme for 16 to 25-year-olds that can give you the experience and training you need to move into a job. It’s a great option if you’ve left school or college and aren’t sure what your next step should be.
  • Team – a 12 week personal development programme where you’ll get the chance to gain new skills, take a qualification and meet new people. As well as a two-week work experience you’ll get the chance to attend a residential training session and work as part of a team to design and deliver a community project.

The Prince’s Trust is focused on supporting young people who are not in work, education or training but it’s still worth exploring what support the charity can offer you even if you’re currently working or studying.

5. Arranging work experience through your local JobCentre Plus

Your local JobCentre Plus centre can help you find work experience, even if you’re not currently claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). Your JobCentre Plus will have links with local businesses who will be able to offer you work experience as well as other help with finding a job.

The precise kind of work experience on offer will depend on where you live and your circumstances. If you’ve been out of work for a while you may be offered additional support to help you gain experience of the world of work.

For non-urgent enquires, it’s recommend you email your local JobCentre Plus. You can find your local JobCentre Plus by clicking on the link below:

Find your local JobCentre Plus

6. Volunteer to gain work experience

Work experience is not the only way to gain valuable skills and confidence that employers look for. Volunteering is a great way to gain new skills and make a difference in your local area. For example, volunteering at a local charity shop gives you experience of working as part of a team and serving customers, which will help you stand out when you come to apply for a job.

Click on the links below to discover volunteering opportunities near you:

7. Applying for an apprenticeship

Options for school leavers have expanded significantly in recent years. If you don’t think college or university are for you, apprentices offer the chance to gain valuable work experience as part of a structured training programme. Apprenticeships allow you to ‘earn as you learn’ and avoid the debt associated with going to university.

Apprenticeships are structured according to skill levels, ranging from an intermediate apprenticeship open to people with five good GCSE passes (or equivalent) all the way up to degree apprenticeships, which are equivalent to a traditional university degree.

Higher apprenticeships, also known as School Leaver programmes, are an increasingly popular option for employers and young people. Aimed at Year 13 students that would otherwise be expected to go to university, they are similar to traditional graduate training schemes. Higher apprenticeships offer a great way for people to ‘earn and learn’ without incurring the debt associated with studying for a degree.

Please click on the links below for more information about apprenticeships and how you can apply for one:

GOV.UK – Find an apprenticeship (England)

My World of Work – Apprenticeships (Scotland)  

NIDirect – Apprenticeships (Northern Ireland)

Careers Wales – What is an apprenticeship? (Wales)

Student Ladder – What are school leaver programmes?

Prospects – What is an apprenticeship?

If you live in England and have left school or college without the qualifications your need for an apprenticeship, a traineeship could be a good option for you. A traineeship is a course with work experience that gets you ready for work or an apprenticeship.

GOV.UK – Find a traineeship

Work experience opportunities at Groundwork

Groundwork is a charity working to transform lives in the UK’s most disadvantaged communities. At Groundwork we’re passionate about creating a future where everywhere is vibrant and green, every community is strong and able to shape its own destiny and where everyone can reach their potential. We help people gain confidence and skills, get into training and work, protect and improve green spaces, lead more active lives and overcome significant challenges such as poverty, isolation, low skills and poor health.

Many of our local Groundwork Trusts offer volunteering and work experience opportunities. Contact your local Groundwork to see how they can help you.

Note: This guide has been written to support people that have already left education.

If you are a school or college student looking for your own placement you can find a guide to arranging your own placement here. If you work for a college or school and are helping students find work experience placements there is a guide to finding work experience placements for school and college students here.