Work experience for hundreds - during a pandemic

Work experience for hundreds - during a pandemic
Date3rd Oct 2022AuthorCat ElmesCategoriesStudent Life

Above: Star interns with Sam Crick, schools engagement lead at 8billionideas, including Maddy and Pasha, who created the Piggybank app idea during their internship. You can see the Piggybank pitch deck here.

Esher Sixth Form College partnered with 8billionideas to create the virtual three-day ‘Internship’ programme, eventually winning the 2022 Enterprise and Employability Award from SFCA.

Effectively reaching hundreds of students

Born in the midst of the pandemic at the end of 2020, ‘The Internship’ was conceived as a way to alleviate the challenges faced by many careers advisors. Generally stretched thin, careers professionals regularly grapple with providing a large number – often hundreds – of students with work placements.

One person who was intimately familiar with this struggle was Cat Jayne Elmes, Work Experience and Alumni Coordinator at Esher Sixth Form College. Her input played a key role in instigating the project that became ‘The Internship’, ultimately leading to its implementation at the college in partnership with careers learning company 8billionideas.

“’The Internship’ is a brilliant opportunity. Not only to get a meaningful work experience, to hit those Gatsby Benchmarks, and also to hit the numbers in college,“ she says. Launched to students in early 2021, the programme quickly reached almost 500 registrations in the following months at the college, with students expected to take part in either the Internship or source their own work experience. 

Held over three days in the summer term, students worked as research interns in randomly assigned teams of 5 to create a solution to a problem they themselves identified, which could be in any field. Throughout, presentations and sessions from 8billionideas gave students ideas and guided them from brief to concept to prototype, through to raising investment through a pitch. This model was similar to virtual placements offered by large companies like KPMG, but instead of being focused on one employer, our Internship gave students opportunity to engage with a range of business types and individuals including the speakers - a young entrepreneur and senior staff from IBM and LinkedIn.  

The impact of the programme

485 year 12 students took part in The Internship 2021, which together with over 350 students completing independently organised in-person placements meant that more than 85% of our Year 12s completed a meaningful experience of the workplace. This more than met the requirements in Compass for the fulfilment of Gatsby Benchmark 6. The pandemic has re-set everyone’s notions of what constitutes a workplace. Whilst The Internship was virtual, this was not considered a problem by our Careers and Enterprise Company funded Enterprise Coordinator, who was extremely positive about our initiative and cited it as a model other schools and colleges could adopt.

Some of the ideas and solutions generated by the students were excellent. All Interns received a certificate and recommendation from 8billionideas to use in their personal statements, CVs and LinkedIn profiles. Students were encouraged to record The Internship in the Activities and Competencies sections of Unifrog. Many students referenced the skills of teamwork, independence and creativity in their UCAS personal statements. Most importantly, students enjoyed The Internship and gained a better understanding of the range of employability skills necessary in modern business.

Moving forward into 2023, The Internship at Esher Sixth form College will continue to be an integral part of our work experience programme, and we will continue to adapt it post-pandemic. A hybrid version may be our new strategy for 2023, but we will consider what mode of delivery best suits students closer to the time. 

Cat is work experience and alumni co-ordinator at Esher Sixth Form College. Look out for more blogs from award winners in the coming weeks; this is the third in a series, and you can find the first here.

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