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The Importance of Work Experience

We’ve spoken to many people in these pages over the years about how they achieved success in landing a job in their chosen career and what tips they might share. While all of these careers and the routes taken are different, one of the elements of each particular journey appears to be the importance of work experience.

It’s no huge revelation, but it’s worth underlining here how valuable it is in helping you to find out if your perception of that dream role matches up to the reality and, at the same time, increases your chances of selection at interview, whether for education, training or employment. Indeed, this author, benefited from several work experience opportunities in order to be selected for a journalism diploma simply because it provided a huge advantage in being accepted on a course of study that was hugely oversubscribed.

Clarifying career aspirations

As long ago as 2011, the Education and Employers Taskforce published a report on the value of work experience to young people within the contexts of clarifying career aspirations, getting into university, academic attainment and employment. Among many conclusions it came to were the following: work experience is under-utilised as a means to stretch the career horizons of young people; there is a strong connection between clarity and realism of career aspirations aged 16 and later adult labour market outcomes; work experience helps determine that a specific career is not for the individual.

The McKinsey Global Institute and McKinsey’s People & Organizational Performance Practice published a report in 2022: Human Capital at Work: The Value of Work Experience. It defines work experience holistically “as the accumulated knowledge that workers gain by being in the labour market.” Their research showed that ‘the experience effect’ was similar across the advanced economies they studied:

“Our analysis finds that work experience contributes 40 per cent of the average individual’s lifetime earnings in the United States, and 43 per cent in both Germany and the United Kingdom.”

If further proof were needed, the advice given in the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) booklet of 2014: Making Work Experience Work, still holds true today. It’s introduction is particularly relevant:

“Work experience is vital to young people at school, college and as they enter the labour market. It helps young people to make the transition from education into working life by giving them: first-hand experience of the workplace and an insight into jobs and sectors; increased confidence and employability skills; experience to build their CVs and access to networks; an understanding of how recruitment works; insight into how their skills and abilities translate to the workplace.”

The whole document is worth a read and can be found here.

Top Tips

This all said, let’s revisit some of the contributory tips from the interviews on these blog pages. Sarah Whaites, once a Public Relations professional in Liverpool and now a senior project manager (PM) in London is in no doubt about the benefits of toe dipping before diving in: “I would recommend that someone who wants to be a PM should secure some work experience first by being an assistant PM or taking a shadowing role to see the kinds of things people do day in day out. It will really help bring any training to life.”

Sarah Thomas, started out her journey to being a Teaching Assistant on The Wirral by volunteering at a school. She said having a feel for the work, before applying for a course is recommended: “It’s so important to get some practical experience before you even apply for a course.”

And finally North Wales-based, Cody Willoughby benefited from having had work experience on her CV to land a role as a business administrator. She said: “My work experience was absolutely invaluable because it was my first taste of working in the real world. Even during a work experience opportunity, you can learn so much…Being in a place with people doing their job of work is an eye opener, you get a sense of the ebb and flow, the regimen, the routine of an office. My work experience also gave me confidence in my own abilities.”

The message is clear work experience counts and getting some even while you are training can definitely boost your chances on that dream job.

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