Shortly before breaking up for the summer holidays, thousands of West Midland teenagers had their first taste of work. Joining local companies and businesses for a week, the idea was for them to gain experience of being in a job and focus their thoughts on their futures. Education correspondent Kat Keogh reports.
Far from being a two-week break from school, work experience can be a pathway to a teenager’s chosen career.
And that experience is as vital as ever, as so many young people in Birmingham face unemployment.
Government figures released in May show there are 14,940 young people aged 18 to 24 claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in Birmingham.
Arming youngsters with experience in the workplace is increasingly being seen as way to give teenagers a head start in the jobs market.
Recently, a new Birmingham school backed by Aston Villa Football Club was among the first of a new breed of vocational schools to get the go-ahead by Education Secretary Michael Gove.
The new Kajans Hospitality and Catering Studio School, which is being backed by businesses including Villa, Hilton Hotels and National Express, will teach pupils both academic and vocational qualifications.
It is among a new type of “studio school”, where students will take part in work placements with firms connected to their school alongside lessons.
New Government initiatives aside, traditional work experience programmes are still thriving in mainstream schools.
Thousands of Year 10 students across the city headed out into the workplace just before the summer break for a taste of life in industries including manufacturing, banking, childcare and the arts.
Among those taking part in the annual exodus from the classroom were a trio of teenagers from the International School in Tile Cross.
The school was named one of the fastest improving schools in the country after exam results doubled in just three years, and earlier this month unveiled a £12 million school refurbishment.
Figures show that more than one in 10 18-24-year-olds in the Hodge Hill constituency – where the International School is located – are claiming JSA.
Yet the school’s work experience programme is trying to open up the world of work for Year 10 students, with links with big-name Birmingham employers such as Birmingham Airport, as well as smaller organisations like childcare centres. Fifteen-year-old International School pupil Rondene Vassell from spent a week with Alcoa, an aluminium plate manufacturer based in Kitts Green.
The multi-national firm works closely with the school, including supporting an initiative to improve school attendance which has seen attendance soar from 80 per cent to 94 per cent.
Rondene, from Alum Rock, is hoping to stay on at the International School to study A-levels in English Language, maths, law and politics.
She said her week working at the company was a “real eye-opener”, and helped her decide she wanted to continue her dream of studying law.
She said: “The site I was at melts down aluminium for aircraft.
“What interested me was the fact it’s such a large company with a broad spectrum of departments for me to experience and learn as much as I could. During the week I did some secretarial jobs and worked in the finance department looking at profits and losses.
“From a young age I always wanted to go into law but I wanted to try other sectors before I go into law for good.
“I do think work experience at this age will definitely help me to find a job in future.”
Classmate Nikkita Luckman, also 15, spent the week working at Mucky Pups nursery in Garretts Green. The nursery has up to 30 young children on roll at any time, and Nikkita said she was keen to get experience of working for a future career in the health service.
Nikkita, from Smith’s Wood, said: “I looked after babies ranging from six weeks to two years.
“I sat and played with them, fed them morning snacks, changed them and put them to sleep. The staff were very on the ball and always had the children’s best interests at heart. They always worked with the children, not against them.
“I found it really good for me because I did not know what the world of work was like. Waking up early, meeting new people and learning new things was quite challenging but one I really enjoyed and got into.
“I worked quite long hours but it didn’t feel like it and the days went quite fast.”
She added she was given a boost by positive feedback from nursery management.
“From my own experiences at home I like to be hands-on and look after people and I think that’s where my interest comes from,” She said.
“The manager was really pleased with me and told me to keep up the good work.
“Work experience is really good for everyone because it gets you geared up for the real world and working life. You’re not wrapped up in cotton wool and you have to be independent.”
Not every student will end up in the same industry as their chosen work experience placement, but Hasnaat Ahmed said his placement has helped him decide upon a career in engineering.