Editor's Comment

8th January 2010 at 00:00

It has been recognised for some time that the traditional one-size- fits-all model of work experience is flawed. Sending all S4 pupils to spend a week with a company or organisation, some of which are better prepared to mentor pupils than others, has never paid the dividends it should - whether from the perspective of the pupil, the school or the employer.

The findings of the Glasgow University researchers, commissioned by West Dunbartonshire Council to examine the effectiveness of this traditional approach, will resonate across many other authorities and with many critics.

To little surprise, they found that pupils were frequently ill-prepared for what to expect on placement and therefore did not get as much out of the experience as they might have. And sadly, all too often, the experience was a let-down, with pupils reporting: "I was told that there was no work for me to do so it would be better not to come back", or "Sometimes I just sat down and watched".

West Dunbartonshire is to be congratulated for trying to create a more individualised programme for each pupil, linking it to their interests and career goals rather than just a generic introduction to the world of work - labour-intensive though that may be. By offering placements of varying lengths, in different contexts, and on one day a week over a number of weeks instead of a single week, teachers will also be able to intervene where things may be going wrong.

One of the key issues to emerge is that spending time in a workplace does not necessarily make a youngster more employable; learning skills such as team-working, responsibility and social interaction are often more valuable and can be gained in other settings, such as through volunteering. Alas, the growing scarcity of jobs in the recession may turn that virtue into a necessity.

Neil Munro, editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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