Five ways that SMEs can benefit from work experience placements

Do you remember your first work experience? Whether you spent it washing tortoises (my friends were very jealous) or you became the office's very own barista, these placements provided exactly what they said on the tin - experience of work.  Have you ever stopped to think about how work experience can benefit the employer though? 

Just because you've since mastered the ability to knot a tie and climbed up to the position of key decision maker, doesn't mean that you can't reap rewards from offering placements to young workers. 

In case you're still not convinced, we've run through the top five work experience benefits for employers and small businesses. 

1. Work experience can improve your recruitment process

With small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and recruiters experiencing a UK skills shortage, finding suitable job candidates can be tricky. So how can employers get around this? Well, why not give opportunities to young talent and nurture the skills that your business needs?

Work experience schemes, while considered time-consuming in the short-term, can provide an effective strategy for developing a suitably skilled workforce. 

Think of young workers as a blank canvas. While they may come with a sturdy easel, a good employer will add the right combination of colours to make them right for the room. This differs to hiring well travelled professionals who have more of a Jackson Pollock looking skillset.
Additionally, recruiting experienced staff can be costly, especially when the right skills are in such short supply.

Think of young workers as a blank canvas. While they may come with a sturdy easel, a good employer will know how to add the right combination of colours to make them just right for the room.

If we take into account recruitment fees, training and dips in productivity, the average cost of a bad hire is thought to be around £30,000. Investing in youth, however, eliminates much of this expense, while the ability to effectively screen young talent 'on-the-job' minimises the risk of a poor recruitment decision. 

What have you got to lose?

2. Taking on young workers brings new skills

When taking on students and interns, the focus is often on the skills that someone lacks, rather than the ones they have. Just because a college student doesn't have years of experience behind them though, doesn't mean that they can't offer something to your company.

The most innovative firms have a diverse workforce of various ages, skills and backgrounds. Opening up work experience vacancies will attract enthusiastic workers who are able to come at problems from a different angle.  

Work experience can also help fill skill gaps in the firm, as students will have an in demand skill-set, just without the track-record of applying it.

Five skills that students can bring to employers:

1. IT / Technology 

2. Social Media

3. Research

4. Networking

5. Flexibility

Young talent, although with much to learn, will often come into the working world with a fresh outlook on things. If strategies have become repetitive and ideas stagnant, then some Generation Z recruitment could just be what your business needs.  

3. Youth hiring builds community relationships

An SME, that's trying to forge strong relationships in the community, can benefit by offering work experience to students and pupils in the area. 

According to a 2011 survey by Guardian News and Media (GNM), 84% of people prefer companies that 'give back to society,' and helping to develop a young local talent pool certainly falls into this bracket.

In fact, corporate social responsibility (CSR) plays a large part in who consumers choose to engage with. 91% of global consumers believe that businesses should have a social conscience, with obliging employers being rewarded with loyalty, trust and a positive image. 

And what better way to display this social conscience than by showing an interest in youth career development?

When competing with larger organisations, reaching out to the community can help SMEs succeed. By establishing relationships with schools, colleges and universities, businesses are not only able to access the best young talent in the area, but are also able to grow a strong social brand with future consumers (and parents!). It's a win-win situation.

4. Work experience means no cost hires

Let's take a step back for a moment and consider the black and white of work experience. 

By offering placements, employers are able to add extra bodies to the business - without having to pay a salary. Now while we can't ignore the cost of time and training, the ability to hire workers for no pay is of obvious benefit to a small employer, especially if the role is fairly entry-level.

Whether a company can avoid paying the national living wage to those on work experience will depend on the status of the worker. Employers don't have to pay work experience staff if:

  • Workers are voluntary.
  • Students are gaining experience as part of a HE course.
  • Staff are under the age of 16.
  • The role only involves shadowing.

Of course, employers can choose to pay workers if they wish, and this may help develop a more favourable reputation in the community. It will also add some substantial pulling power when competing with other local businesses for the best young talent.  

5. Mentoring new workers increases job satisfaction

It's not just the employer and student that stands to benefit from work experience, but also the existing employees within the company.

Everyone wants to work for the 'good guys' and flexing the company's social muscles will demonstrate a level of community responsibility. 62% of millennials want their company to makes a positive impact (think back to CSR), and knowing that their employer is responsible, can help boost job satisfaction.

Everyone wants to work for the 'good guys' and flexing the company's social muscles will demonstrate a level of community responsibility.

Another way that employers can use work experience to improve job satisfaction, is through mentoring.

We all like to be given authority and we all like to feel knowledgeable, so making staff responsible for the newbie can give a much needed boost to self-esteem. It might not seem like much, but implied trust can go a long way, giving a spring in the step to those who occasionally need reassuring of their high standing in the business. 

Mentoring young workers will also help employees feel as if they're 'giving back,' giving a further boost to morale and satisfaction.  

So, should employers offer work experience placements?

Yes! Although whether it's a viable option will vary from company to company. 

While accepting work experience can seem like a hassle, especially for SMEs, taking on young workers can be advantageous to employers. Whether you see it as a way of screening potential employees, building a brand or just as an opportunity to 'give back,' businesses stand to gain much more than they may have first realised from recruiting aspiring young talent.  
Written by Dan Whitelegg