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South West businesspeople and education leaders call for under 16 work experience to be a national priority

A huge majority of business, school and college leaders want ministers to recognise the importance of pre-16 work experience, according to a new survey published by British Chambers of Commerce.

The survey of over 3,500 business bosses and education leaders found that 82% of business respondents and 75% of respondents from schools, colleges and universities believe secondary schools should offer work experience for pupils aged under 16. In the South West 87% of businesses and 80% of educational establishments who responded to the survey support this call.

Work experience is not offered universally across the UK and in England, in particular, it has been deprioritised.* However, the survey found that 79% of employers think work experience is the most important activity to equip young people with workplace skills, followed by paid part-time work (69%) and volunteering (55%).

While the majority of businesses offer some form of work experience, a third of businesses (36%) offer no work experience of any kind. Micro and small businesses, in particular, need greater support to offer work experience.  

Further findings from the survey for the South West:

Businesses should prioritise delivery of work experience.

  • 50% of South West firms identified work experience as the top priority activity for businesses to offer young people, over business mentoring (13%), part-time paid work (12%), volunteering (4%) and enterprise activities (13%).
  • 43% of South West educational establishments identified work experience as the top priority activity for businesses to offer young people, over enterprise activities (31%), mentoring (17%) and part-time paid work (6%).

There’s no single ideal work experience model – businesses that offer work experience value a variety of models.

  • 46% of South West firms offer one to two week term-time work experience placements, 31% offer work placements during school holidays, 21% offer flexible work placements and 27% arrange visits to their businesses for groups of pupils.

Two-thirds of businesses offer work experience of some form. Those that don’t say that they need more support and encouragement to offer work experience.

  • 31% of South West businesses offer no work experience of any kind.
  • Firms that don’t currently offer work experience would be encouraged to do so by having more information about what is required (33%), someone to facilitate the relationship with the school (34%) and clarity on the benefits to their business (18%).
  • Micro, small and medium sized businesses are less likely than larger firms to offer work experience. 59% of micro businesses (0-9 staff) offer no type of work experience at all, compared to 29% of small (10-49), 16% of medium (50-249) and 12% of large firms (250+).

Suzi Cumberland, Interim General Manager for Plymouth & Devon Chamber of Commerce said: 

“Business and school leaders are clear, we won’t bridge the gap between the world of education and the world of work unless young people spend time in workplaces whilst still at school. “
“Work experience is crucial to bringing down our high youth unemployment rate. It will help ensure more young people are prepared for work. It will help close the widening skills gaps reported by frustrated businesses across the South West, who face difficulty filling vacancies at every level. “
“The results of this survey, both at a regional and national level indicate that Government must act to bring compulsory work experience for under 16s back in England.”

Phil Davies, Principal and Chief Executive of City College Plymouth, said: 

“At City College we believe that students should have the opportunity to access quality work experience andwe work with local schools to provide opportunities for under 16s to do so here at the College. Our professional, vocational and technical courses focus on employability to ensure that our students leave us prepared for the real world of work, and we work closely with City employers to shape our provision - so local businesses as well as students have a real stake in their local College.”

View the infographic of the South West results here

About the survey:

Evidence is taken from the BCC Business and Education survey conducted in July - August 2015. The survey received 3,246 responses from businesses and 306 responses from schools, colleges and universities.

Spokespeople and case studies are also available.

*Work experience in England was scrapped by the Government in September 2012. The British Chambers of Commerce network are calling on the English Government to reverse its decision and devolved nations to ensure there is widespread good quality work experience programmes for pupils pre-16.

Bridging the Gap – the Chamber network education and skills campaign

The Business and Education survey is a key part of the Chamber networks education and skills campaign. This campaign is aimed at bridging the gap between business and education, so that young people are better prepared for work and businesses have the skills they need.

This latest survey builds on the BCC Workforce Survey 2014 which found that 88% of businesses think school leavers are unprepared for the workplace.

Among other initiatives the Chamber network, in partnership with the Skills Funding Agency, is currently delivering 250 Your Future career events across England. More information is available at

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