Prepare your child for the working world

Published by Ruth Cornish on 27 July 2015.
Last updated on 27 July 2015

Work experience

In 1980, 10% of young people went to university. Today, more than 40% do and being a graduate isn't the success ticket it used to be. A strong degree is no longer enough to guarantee employment, let alone a career. Indeed, young people aged 18 to 24 are three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population.

The employment landscape has changed considerably over the past 20 years. There's more competition for far fewer entry-level roles today so having a content-rich CV has never been more important.

The pressure of exams and lack of employment opportunities mean fewer young people are taking on Saturday jobs than ever before. The number of 16- and 17-year-olds working while studying has more than halved since 1996, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills says, and only one in five has a part-time job while in college or doing A-levels.

Some universities are advising students to focus purely on studies, which may put them at a disadvantage later. Moreover, with the increased use of automation in the workplace, the growth of call centres and similar employment for younger people means many of the traditional administrative stepping stones that people may have taken into the workplace previously are gone.

Why work before you work?

Many employers use automated selection processes that automatically reject applicants without work experience for entry level or low-skilled roles.

Nicola Horlick, chief executive of Money & Co, therefore believes working before beginning a career is important. "My daughter, who is a medical student, worked at the Queen's tennis tournament in June and it was hard work: 12-hour days with only 30 minutes for lunch. She walked home because she didn't want to waste any of her earnings on travel costs.

"My 21-year-old son is a computer science student, so he can earn proper money in the holidays, working in IT."

Whether someone is working to earn money to fund their studies or working in an environment that is relevant to their career focus, it all creates a story to put on their CV and shows drive and ambition.

Ian Leath is a retired director of a technology development company and now works as a coach for the government-backed Growth Accelerator programme. He says early work experience can be key in standing out from the crowd. "Even my PA had a first-class degree. What made successful candidates stand out was their early drive and ambition before they joined the organisation."

Becky Daw, assistant principal at High Weald Academy in Cranbrook, Kent, has previously managed the work experience scheme for her school and is clear that the earlier the experience of work, the better. "Once kids have a taste of the workplace, it is amazing to see the motivation it gives them for their studies. They realise that work isn't an easy option and they have important choices to make that might be with them for 50 years."

What are the opportunities?

There are a number of ways to find work or voluntary experience. Schools and universities should have well established links with employers and will advertise opportunities. Online, the likes of Gumtree and Indeed, as well as organisations such as Accenture and Marks & Spencer, advertise work experience placements where you can apply directly for a job.

Timebank and Reach are also useful for finding out about voluntary opportunities in your community.

Denise Markham Wroe, operations director for fast-growing integrated creative agency Collider, says: "The key to getting experience shouldn't be down to who you know. I believe in people who show great passion and energy, who have the courage to make contact but are not arrogant or a know-it-all. Still, really importantly, they must be able to spell."

What do employers want?

Life skills. The ability to turn up on time, converse with everyone, ask questions, take instructions and be willing to put the kettle on.

Markham Wroe smiles when she recalls a very keen 17-year-old runner who was sent to make a hot chocolate. A terrible smell emerging from the kitchen prompted an investigation, which found he had put milk in the kettle.

It is also important to be suitably dressed for the workplace, recognising that many firms now have casual dress codes, and tattoos and piercings can be acceptable. The legal or financial sectors remain more traditional, however.

Good verbal and written English is valued and it is important that a young person recognises that text speak is usually not suitable away from a mobile phone.

What employment rights do young people have?

The youngest age a child can work part-time is 13, except children involved in areas such as television, theatre and modelling, where a performance permit would be needed.

Children can only start full-time work once they've reached the minimum school leaving age of 16. They can then work up to a maximum of 40 hours a week. Before then, their employer (including parents if they run a business) needs to obtain a permit from their local council to employ a child.

Wages and holidays

There is no minimum wage for those under 16. Once they reach 16, they are entitled to £3.79 an hour (rising to £3.87 in October). At 18, they are entitled to £5.14 (£5.30) an hour and for those 21 and over the rate is £6.50 (£6.70).

All workers being paid a wage are entitled to paid holiday of up to 5.6 weeks a year, depending on the hours they work.

How can you help?

Supporting the young people in your life to nurture interests, broaden their horizons and find work experience is important as soon as they seem ready.

Jenny Rogers is a career coach who regularly helps graduates struggling to find a job. She says: "One of the reasons they struggle is that they don't understand how the 'real' world works, so their vacation jobs have been as interns in handpicked roles through parental influence.

"They have absolutely no idea how rough the world of work can be – no one has ever been nasty to them, or indifferent, or expected them to work stuff out for themselves. They have no experience of working in a team and a narrow palate of influencing skills."

She believes it is far better to nurture a passion than force someone to take a path that appeals to parents. For Emily Estlin, 28, operations manager at award-winning, zero-waste restaurant SILO in Brighton, that passion was food. She says her industry welcomes young people, especially teenagers. "If someone is passionate about great food and believes in what we are about, that really shines through. We are very happy to train people."

Both Emily and her partner Douglas McMaster, 27, who is the owner/chef and previously a BBC Young Chef of the Year, started working at 16 and believe it has been hugely significant for their careers.

There are many opportunities out there for young people, including the rising trend of starting their own businesses. The key to success is being clear about what they want to do.

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