The value of experience

There are very few people who have not been impacted in some way by the recent pandemic.

Viewing through the prism of physical health, it has undoubtedly been the older generations that have borne the brunt, but it is young people that will face disproportionate economic and social challenges over the longer term.

Navigating through our teenage years to adulthood and finding a pathway to gainful employment and financial wellbeing has never been easy at the best of times and it is a process that has undoubtedly been made more difficult by the events of the past 18 months.

One of the most important routes into employment is the oft-maligned work experience placement, designed to provide young people with an insight into the world of the work and help that transition when the time comes to leave education and start earning a living.

However, according to a recent YouGov poll for the Sutton Trust, one of the significant impacts of the Covid-19 crisis has been a huge reduction in the number of businesses considering offering work experience placements.

The survey found that two thirds of the businesses surveyed had cancelled all their work experience and internship placements through the pandemic with a quarter admitting that the pandemic would make it more difficult to be proactive about social mobility in the workplace. 

With the downward pressure that is likely to see more graduates taking entry level jobs and the fact that many school leavers may be disadvantaged by not having taken exams through the pandemic, making that jump from education has never been more challenging. 

Thankfully there are signs that slowly but surely businesses are regaining the confidence necessary to begin welcoming young people back into their workplaces. 

However, ensuring that placements are properly planned and managed is absolutely critical – I described work experience as oft-maligned as we all have experience of those placements that are so bad that they can be counter-productive for both the candidate and the host business. 

There really is nothing worse then seeing a poor 15-year-old slumped in front of a computer screen with the only highlight they can look forward to is when it’s their turn to put the kettle on or pop out and get somebody a sandwich.

With the right attention and support, the transformational potential of a good work experience placement should never be under-estimated.

There is of course always a significant onus on the young person themselves to make the most of the experience before them - treating the experience with the respect it deserves by arriving on time and sporting the appropriate attire is always a great way to start on the right foot.

Being pro-active, asking questions and projecting a can-do attitude are all hugely important attributes when it comes to developing the kind of rapport with other workers that often leads to the kind of experiences that have the potential to be so valuable.

However, it should also be recognised that it is not every teenager that has the confidence to stroll into a workplace and create their own opportunities. 

At Penney Financial Partners we have recently started a new work experience programme where we are planning to run a minimum of six placements a year, allowing us to provide the appropriate level of support so that each placement becomes an event rather than an imposition. 

As well as providing the placement with a programme of meetings and activity that will provide insight into each aspect of the business, each candidate also has a real-life project to complete and then present to internal and external colleagues at the end of the placement.

Each candidate also has to complete a learning log which is reviewed every day, providing an insight into the areas of greatest interest and helping to shape further learning opportunities during the placement.

Having recently welcomed our first two placements since re-opening our offices, we have been absolutely blown away by the response of the candidates to the programme that has been developed by our business development consultant Rob Hawkins.

The level of engagement was outstanding and the final presentations made a hugely valuable contribution to some important issues facing the business and I am confident that both placements have taken significant knowledge and inspiration from their couple of weeks at Penney Financial Partners. 

Being able to provide this kind of platform for young people as they consider their next steps is a contribution that we are delighted to provide for our community but while the motivations for providing work experience are predominantly altruistic, there are also internal benefits that are equally valuable and potentially unexpected.

One of the great positives we found is that through their interactions with the placements, each colleague had to really think about their role, the best practice that they employ and the important part each colleague plays in the smooth running of our business.

The result was that our colleagues were able to remove the blinkers that we all wear as we focus on delivering our day to day responsibilities and remind themselves of how much they actually enjoy what they do and being part of a successful team.

The pandemic has been tough for us all and every one of our colleagues has continued to work through the uncertainty while adapting to the changing circumstances of work as well as the evolving needs of our clients.

Through our new work experience programme we hope that we can make a real difference to a handful of young lives every year but equally importantly, it is has already shown itself to be a great opportunity for the wider team to re-energise, reconnect and celebrate the wonderful things they do for Penney Financial Partners.  

The Partner Practice is an Appointed Representative of and represents only St. James's Place Wealth Management plc (which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) for the purpose of advising solely on the group's wealth management products and services, more details of which are set out on the group's website The 'St. James's Place Partnership' and the title 'Partner' are marketing terms used to describe St. James's Place representatives.

Penney Financial Partners is a trading name of Penney Financial Partners Ltd. Penney Financial Partners Limited is registered in England and Wales, Number 09964340. Registered Office: Kensington House, Knights Way, Battlefield, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 3AB, UK