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Virtual work experience. Yes, who'd of thought it would be a thing. We certainly didn't

November 24, 2020

Background

We all know that there's a shortage of talent in the tech sector. We think we've all experienced the speed of the market and demand, as businesses scramble to attract the best candidates from a not so big and not so diverse talent pool. Like with anything you want to grow you've got to feed it, so we do.

Back in 2017, we decided to develop our Educational Outreach Strategy to have the most significant reach and the most impact we could achieve. What this meant for us was working with a number of partnerships that were carefully selected and aligned with our wider Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

Who did we select and why?

Our main partnerships are with:

  • Manchester Digitals; DigitalFutures and DigitalHer
  • Enterprise Advisor Network
  • STEM Ambassadors
  • The Bridge
  • Teach First

We've supported other organisations/charities too, with events and activities.

We selected them based upon belief in their programmes in reaching students across the breadth of the community; students may not have access to work experience through a family connection or readily available insight into the world of digital and technology opportunities.

One of the events on our Educational Outreach calendar is supporting Teach First with their summer work experience placements. Having helped them with their first Manchester placements in summer 2019, we were keen to offer placements again this year. The plan was in place, but it's safe to say we had a few challenges this year to overcome.

Teach First is an education charity that's developing the next generation of great teachers and brilliant leaders to build a fair education for all. They know that when the foundations are right for disadvantaged pupils, we can unlock the potential of every single young person. But they rely on organisations like us to help them do it. By providing schools and young people with enrichment opportunities with businesses, together we can help give young people the building blocks for a successful career after school.

Teach First presented us with several options, but ultimately we were keen to deliver it ourselves. The value of hands-on experience, meeting a wide variety of people and the routine of work can make a big difference to a students employability and career choices.

We knew this wouldn't be the typical work experience, but we knew we wanted to keep the learning objectives the same. Our research highlighted just how few virtual opportunities appeared to be out there for high school and college students, and with COVID-19 impacting students’ access to careers advisors and teachers/ in education role models; we wanted to help as much as we could.

Through careful planning and an army of volunteers from across Auto Trader, we committed to delivering four days of work experience to 14 students. We included career talks, workshops on things like coding, D&I, careers, our customers and even Carbon Literacy. We had individual tasks, group activities, research pieces and final presentations. We gave the students feedback and helped them identify the strengths they could bring to a digital employer. It was not without its challenges, and there was lots of learning along the way. But would we do this again? Yes. Absolutely. It gave students the chance to communicate with others in a different way than usual, broaden their skills, push themselves out of their comfort zone and take responsibility when completing individual tasks; supporting them with time management and prioritisation skills.

The feedback from both sides was humbling and heart-warming. The students described the experience as invaluable, educational and enjoyable.

Our AT volunteers said:

"I really enjoyed being part of the Recruitment Marketing workshop. Once the students realised that they and their peers were the target audience for their adverts, they came up with some wonderfully inspired ideas to target the market."

"There's not enough information promoting different roles within the technology sector, and the Virtual Work Experience Programme provided a great opportunity to pique interest and shine a light on what career opportunities there are for students."

"I loved having the opportunity to share my experiences so far. As someone still in their early career it doesn't feel too long ago being in work experience myself(!) and not knowing which direction to go in or what subjects to study in college/university. I never had in-depth work experience like what AT is offering to students, so it meant a lot to be involved. Hopefully, by sharing my experiences, this has helped them in some way."

"I was really impressed with how the students engaged in the workshops. I was a little sceptical when I first heard about the virtual work experience because it's quite different when you aren't in the same space. You miss out on the atmosphere of all working on a project, but they all made the most of it and really got involved in all the activities. It was also really nice to see all the things they learned and will take away from the week in their presentations. I was especially glad that so many of them enjoyed the CSS coding activity and it even changed some of their perceptions of what being a developer is like which is one of the main reasons I take part in these types of educational activities, so It's definitely been a big success in my eyes."

Teach First said:

"The poorest schoolchildren don't have the role models, support and connections they need to succeed. Doors are closed to them before they know they exist – and COVID-19 has only made this worse. Working with Auto Trader is changing that by helping them get experiences of the world of work in what is such an uncertain time. Together we're creating the results we all want to see: every child reaching their potential. In the classroom, in work, and life. We're so grateful for everyone at Auto Trader who has got behind this programme and look forward to seeing what the future may bring."

Student feedback:

"When schools closed in March, we moved to online lessons, but it was really hard to keep motivated as it didn't work as well as face to face teaching. I was really worried about my exams and results given how much school I missed, and it was really difficult not seeing my friends and losing a routine. I was so lucky that I was able to do a virtual work experience placement over the summer, and I'm so grateful to Teach First for organising it and the company for ensuring it could still happen. I was able to learn about a completely digital business which I didn't know anything about, gain transferable skills and find out about careers that I didn't know existed. It's so important for businesses to keep supporting my generation – we're their future employees, and it's getting even harder to get into top universities and companies without experience, which for people from schools like mine can be really hard to find. I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had this summer and really hope companies keep supporting Teach First to provide them for more young people like me".

So why get involved?

Well if you want a great pool of talent you've got to feed into the ecosystem, not just take. Our industry moves so fast. We need to support educators with shared experience, insight and opportunities. It's also a fantastic way to develop colleagues and offer them experiences that excite and bring such a sense of giving and community. Students of 2020 have had enough challenges, and so many have lost their work experience placements and access to employers. The Gatsby Report identified that students who have four meaningful employee encounters are less likely to become NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). If we take away six months of opportunities from our students without an alternative offering the impact on them and future talent pools will be great.

So what's next for us?

We're taking our learnings and applying them and continue to deliver virtual activities until we're able to offer our onsite and on-campus/school experiences or maybe even a blend going forward. We're currently working with Manchester Academy High School, who were matched with via Enterprise Advisor Network with a live brief to their year 11 students. We have active STEM ambassadors and are taking part in virtual roadshows with DigitalHer. In addition to all of that, we're exploring some additional activities that we hope to be able to share soon.

We're also delighted to have been asked to be a Cornerstone employer for Greater Manchester and are looking forward to sharing our learning and experiences.

Our latest intake of Graduates joined us in October, and we're excited to welcome more apprentices in January.

Sarah & Caroline