Olivia Huxtable with Graeme Yorston and Laurie Hughes

27 April 2015

Why companies need to open their doors to students

Olivia Huxtable, 19, a work experience student at Principality, talks about why companies need to open their doors to students to support the leaders of the future.

In recent years, the education system has come under scrutiny for not providing teenagers with suitable life skills. A gap year of work experience has taught me there is far more to success than memorising a textbook cover to cover and in light of Responsible Business Week, I feel employers should open their doors to students of all ages to deliver life skills that schooling fails to teach.

A survey carried out with just over 2,000 Welsh employers by the UK Commission for employment and skills revealed that whilst 63% regarded work experience as a critical requirement, only 31% provided placement opportunities for teenagers still in education. Employers are ready to demand an extensive CV but shy away from engaging with a younger audience; twenty agencies refused to even look at my CV just because I wasn’t a university graduate. Understandably, some employers view work experience as a ‘liability’ and fear that a sixth form or undergraduate student will not be capable of the tasks they set out. However, if a teenager has taken the time out of a hectic social life and an endless movie list to watch on Netflix, they must be eager and willing to try their best.

Planning a worthwhile experience is vital because simply opening your doors to young people is inadequate if the placement is a waste of your time and theirs. I see internships as a two-way relationship where if you respect each other’s time and efforts, you can both get a lot out of the opportunity; a student in the office can be a breath of fresh air and a wave of new ideas. 

My seven-week work experience at Principality Building Society is the last stop on my year of internships. Reflecting on experiences from previous companies I began to recognise the real importance of a good leader, in which Principality has an endless supply.  From the minute I entered the building, I instantly felt part of the marketing team. I understood everyone’s role (despite struggling to learn everyone’s names) and was given worthwhile work that presented me with a realistic taste of what it’s like to work there. It can be daunting for a student to sacrifice their 11 o’clock break and free periods in an attempt to see what the working world has to offer, so companies should use Principality as a model. For once, I feel inspired to work and do not wish to be an eternal student to hide from the real world.

If employers are increasingly placing emphasis on the value of work experience, it’s their obligation to give students the chance to understand what business is. Students are collectively aware that just a degree is not enough to set them apart from their competition, but we are in a vicious circle where few employers are willing to break the mould. To be ‘responsible’, businesses need to end their isolation from the younger, less qualified, generation and learn to bite the bullet. Future leaders cannot learn how to lead unless they are first shown the way.

Top 5 things from my work experience in Principality 

  • Variety –Being able to work with different team members allowed me to understand the ins and outs of marketing and figure out what I liked for the future.
  • Being involved – the smallest things made a difference such as being included on emails & in weekly team meetings.
  • The type of tasks –I’ve been kept busy with a variety of jobs and I felt like the work I was doing was helpful to the team instead of being a time-waster. Even having repetitive and ‘boring’ jobs is better than staring at a blank computer screen!
  • Itinerary – a diary was planned in advance to make sure I could take part in as much as possible but as it was flexible and plans changed, it kept it exciting.
  • Atmosphere – the best thing about working here is that everyone is extremely friendly and family-like and it instantly put me at ease 

Published: 27/04/2015