What I did during the holidays… (the importance of work experience)

What did you do? It’s a genuine question. What did you do? You had a week off, so what did you do? The biggest complaint I get from students is that they don’t have enough time to do anything. They are always so busy. What that means in reality is that they have a certain amount of time earmarked for doing ‘worthy, improving’ things and the rest of the time is theirs to squander indiscriminately.

If I, or indeed any working person in the world thought it was acceptable to knock off shortly after 3 with a minimum of two breaks in any given working day, industry would grind to a halt. Yes, I appreciate you have pressures and you are young and quite rightly have an expectation that life should be a more even balance of fun versus responsibility. Remember of course that is luxury of the Western world so you won’t get a great deal of sympathy from me on that one. However, with every afternoon off, weekends, half terms and holidays you could be using that time to help build your personal portfolio – establish your bona fides within an area, add to your extra-curriculars. Hell, you could do a blog, start a business, take an additional course.

I feel like i could be doing more0002

The primary lie that is re-enforced by every school I’ve had dealings with is that all of this ‘non-core activity’ is a distraction rather than an enhancement of the pupils’ studies. They will happily wait until the very end of the first year of A levels before even mentioning ‘careers’ or ‘work experience’. Giving the students the summer holidays to make decisions about what they want to spend the next 40 years doing, creating a compelling narrative to present to a university’s or apprenticeship selection committee and to backdate and catalogue a raft of experiences in support of that application. Little and often should be the key to success. If you spent an afternoon or two a week ruling out or confirming certain thoughts on what you might like to do with your life by volunteering, shadowing, informational interviewing, think about what you might learn. About yourself, about your interests, making contacts, developing soft skills, building a portfolio of activities that confirm your long-held interest in an area.

For every afternoon you spend exploring what interests you, you are mitigating the risk of making the wrong decision and are gaining a raft of valuable skills. The reality is most students are created equal – at least in terms of their applications. Unless you’ve been hopelessly misadvised (which is a strong possibility) you will likely only apply to courses that you have a hope of getting on to based on your predicted grades, therefore logically the other applicants will have broadly similar academic profiles. Once you weed out the obvious things like National Citizenship Service, Extended Project Qualification or Duke of Edinburgh, what you are left with is a bunch of students with similar profiles, similar expected grades and similar career aspirations. This more than anything else is the compelling argument to do more with your time than the fortnight prescribed by schools as being all that is necessary to understand the ‘experience of work’. Without a battery of experiences that inform and support your decision to study a certain course, pursue a certain career you are basically entering a lottery, so do yourself a favour, don’t listen to the school, get off your arse and get on your bike (as they used to say.)

So next time that someone asks what did you do with your half term, try and have a better answer than went to the cinema (unless you want to be a film journalist.)

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