How to Deliver the Best Possible Work Experience for Students Whilst Working Remotely

Learn how we deliver an impactful work experience programme for students.

Delivering work experience for future talent

Work experience can be a hugely beneficial opportunity for young people as they begin to consider their career path options. However, changes in legislation on how it must be run, as well as many schools making it non-compulsory, have meant that it’s no longer the right of passage that it used to be, and many students are missing out on the opportunity.

We want to encourage companies, particularly those in the digital sector, to invest time in creating fantastic work experiences for young people in order that they might be inspired and informed about what a career in the sector looks like. Without opportunities like this, we’ll continue to struggle to attract talented people that the sector so desperately needs.

When we set out to create our work experience programme, we wanted to put on something that would be fun, engaging and educational but also something that we were really proud of. Below we’ve shared our approach which we hope will be useful for you as you consider running work experience at your company. 

 

March 2020

Every year, we offer students the opportunity to apply for our work experience programme. We have been developing it for the last couple of years, taking the feedback from previous students and using it to improve the experience the following year. This year we had selected three successful candidates that were to come into the office to complete their week of work experience at the end of June. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the move to remote working, meant that our work experience plans were up in the air. 

Determined to still deliver on our work experience promises, we formed a plan to run the work experience virtually and remotely. Although the value of visiting the office would be removed, this was out of our hands and we wanted to do all we could to ensure the students still learnt a lot from their time with us and came away with a clear idea of what working in digital is really like.

 

The application process

We started taking applications for three students to enrol on our Summer 2020 work experience in about October 2019. It’s important for us that we spread the word about our work experience programme and give as many students as possible the chance to apply. Starting applications this early meant we were able to contact the institutions we work with regularly under our Future Talent programme, as well as other local schools and colleges and give teachers the opportunity to pass on the information to their appropriate classes. We created a blog post on our website that explained all about who Graphite are, why we are passionate about Future Talent, what the work experience would entail and linked it to our Google application form. 

We wanted students that would throw themselves into the programme and show a genuine interest in the tasks and sessions we had planned. Our form contained fields for all the necessary information including; 

  • Student's full name
  • Student's age
  • Educational institution
  • Main area of interest within the digital industry 
  • Email address, and their teacher's email address 
  • We also included a box that asked students why they wanted to come for work experience at Graphite Digital. The purpose of this box was to assess how much effort they put into their response and how driven they were to make it in a digital career. 

Our main criteria for selecting the three students was the following;

  • 16-19 years old - we felt that this was the age where students are beginning to make big decisions concerning their next steps and future careers so the work experience would be most valuable for them.
  • Passion for digital
  • Amount of effort put into the ‘Why would you like to come for work experience at Graphite?’ box
  • An evident hard-working and driven attitude

 

student on laptop

Selections and organisation

Once we had decided on the three successful candidates, we contacted them (cc’ing in their teachers) to inform them of the good news! 

We had advertised the work experience as ‘Summer 2020’ so needed to confirm the best dates with the work experience students as well as the availability of the internal team to be involved. 

We also had to ensure any students under the age of eighteen sent us permission to take part in the work experience from a parent or guardian. This was achieved through a simple letter, which was signed by us and by the parent or guardian.

 

Planning

We decided to use Google Hangouts for the work experience. We have been using Google Hangouts internally whilst working remotely already, it’s simple to use and integrates with Google Calendar, and even if the students didn’t have a Gmail account they were still able to join calls.

Only one student was under eighteen so we ensured that permission was given from that student's parents for her to engage with Graphite via Google Hangouts.

We maintained regular contact with the students and their teachers on the run-up to the dates of the work experience, ensuring that they were informed and kept updated with any information or news. This involved ensuring them that the work experience would still continue remotely when the COVID-19 uncertainty set in.

Prior to the planning of the day, we established which area of digital the students were most interested in learning more about. We had one student interested in Project Management, one interested in Development and one interested in Design and Marketing. With these interests in mind, a schedule was created including; an icebreaker, regular breaks and check-ins, sessions with each agency department as well as a group challenge that would help them complete some of the tasks they would do in their aspired future job role.

We booked the sessions with members of each department of the agency into their calendars way in advance of the work experience to ensure that they had the time available to help out.

The days were well structured and allowed for the candidates to have ample amounts of breaks whilst keeping us busy and entertained.
Work experience student

Intro & Icebreaker

We kicked off the work experience with an introduction to the work experience itself, a run-through of the schedule and the key people that they will meet over the three days. It was important for us that although the three students wouldn’t meet physically, they still got to know each other and worked well as a team. Therefore, we followed the introduction with a game of two truths, one lie to act as an icebreaker, make everyone feel comfortable and help the students learn a bit more about each other.

 

Team sessions

We set up a number of sessions with different members of the team from different departments to allow the students to gain a deeper understanding of the industry, the roles and responsibilities of each department and how they all work together as an agency. These sessions included:

  • Intro to the digital industry (anyone in the agency can deliver this)
  • Intro to Graphite Digital (Managing Director)
  • Intro to the role of a Managing Director and career story
  • Intro to Marketing and career story 
  • Intro to Client Services (Account and Project Management) and career story
  • Intro to Design and career story
  • Intro to Development and career story

The students heard a career story from a team member from each of the agency departments. Often teams have such diverse backgrounds and route into digital so we find that students love hearing their stories and applying them to their own lives and journeys. 

The students also were invited to shadow a meeting between our Lead Designer and Senior Project Manager about an internal project to get an insight into what a real agency meeting looks like and the roles and responsibilities of each person.

In addition, the students were given an opportunity to have a 1:1 workshop with a member of the department that they were most interested in pursuing. Within these workshops, each student had the opportunity to connect with a team member and discuss best practice within that role, some tools they use on a daily basis at Graphite and some of their current work. These sessions also gave the students an opportunity to get some advice and tips for the team that would help them with their challenge later on in the work experience.

 

student on laptop

The challenge

In the past, we have set students a challenge inspired by our real work for Costa on their original Costa Coffee Club App to get a feel for what kind of tasks their aspired job role entails. However, as our students were slightly older this year, we wanted to adapt and personalise the Costa challenge based on each of their areas of interest. 

We reimagined the challenge to imitate a ‘mini agency’ with the three of them acting as a team responsible for project managing, designing, developing and marketing the project. We scheduled a briefing session in which we spoke through the challenge, requirements and deliverables to ensure student understanding. In total, we gave the students four and a half hours spread across two afternoons to complete the challenge. We made sure that the students also had access to a member from each department's email address so that they could reach out to them for advice or if they had any questions during the challenge. 

 

I very much enjoyed the little project you devised for us because it really felt like we were a mini digital agency so gave us a taste of what it's really like!
Work experience student
I loved trying out being a Project Manager, it's definitely made me want to look towards that area for a future career. I think the main thing will be just to make sure you like your job and are passionate about it, as so many of you have said.
Work experience student

The pitch

The final part of the work experience required the three students to present their Costa Challenge work to the Graphite team as if they were an agency pitching the work to a client. We gave them presentation tips and got them to think about delivering information in a way that a client would appreciate. We had each member of the team that the students had engaged with throughout the three days join the call to see the presentation, provide words of encouragement throughout and give honest feedback at the end.

 

Wrap up

Lastly, the three students and the work experience facilitator joined a final call to speak about how they found the work experience, how they think it went and any final thoughts/questions. We also provided them with a resources sheet that contained some helpful links to information and notes from the team, as well as any slide decks that the team used in their sessions for the students to refer back to in the future.

 

Genuinely couldn't fault the experience, it was a shame we couldn't come into the office but that's just the time we're in at the moment. Can't thank you guys enough for putting this on, it's been a real eye opener into the world of digital.
Work experience student

Feedback 

We shared a feedback form with the three students following the completion of their work experience with us to find out what went well, what could be better in future and any other thoughts they had to help us run our programme the following year. In our form we asked;

  • On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being not at all and 10 being very much), how much did you enjoy your work experience at Graphite? We received three 10/10s.
  • Give a reason for your choice (Why did/didn't you enjoy it?).
  • What went well?
  • What could be better next time? Any ideas for future work experience?
  • What are you taking away with you from this work experience?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how much would you recommend this work experience to a friend? We received three 10/10s.

From these, we received some brilliant ideas and feedback which we can use to help us build on and improve our current work experience offering.

Not only was it nice to hear from passionate skilled people, it was good to gain those contacts for the future if I ever need any mentoring/questions answered.
Work experience student
I have really enjoyed these three days. I feel I've learnt a lot from all of you and it was really nice to see how clearly passionate about your work all of you are.
Work experience student

Recommendations

We would absolutely recommend that other companies consider investing some time in setting up work experience, and if you’re organised it’s really not that difficult! 

There are just a few things we’d recommend for anyone considering running work experience:

  1. Open applications early - It tends to be that in June and Sept/Oct there’s an opportunity for organised work experience in schools, so perhaps open up the opportunity 3 months in advance.
  2. Capture the school or college details and liaise with them - you’ll find they’re so helpful and want to make it work for the student. They’ll be happy to answer any questions you have and should have any forms you need on hand.
  3. Appoint a central point of contact - it’s so useful to have one person who gets to know the students well and can steer them through the experience.
  4. Invite other team members into the process - we discovered that other people in the team had a passion for helping the next generation, and we're delighted to be involved, even in a small capacity.
  5. Be open to learning - young people have such great ideas as they’re not so blinkered by what’s been tried before. Ask them questions and get their input on not only the work experience but things you’re working on - you might learn something.

We wish you luck in running your work experience programme this year. If you would like any advice or to discuss any of the areas explored throughout this post in more detail, feel free to contact us and we’d be more than happy to discuss our experience and advice further.