Work experience in crucial

Tracey Jackson from Howells Patent Glazing – and the first champion supporter for the Building our Skills campaign – explains the value of work experience and how the Black Country business is working with local colleges and enterprise initiatives to advise and guide youngsters towards a career in fenestration.

Cast your mind back to your work experience and I’m sure there’s little that’s memorable; for many, it was a bonus week off school, but the thrill was short-lived as reality hit, and you realised you had to spend all week making tea, answering the phone, and sorting out the filing system. Friday afternoon couldn’t come soon enough. It was worse than school.

With little thought given to the whole process – by the school, pupil or employer – little was gained from the whole experience.

As an employer, we want this to be a thing of the past.

We see work experience as a valuable tool to talent spot and for students to see what could potentially be a great a career fit but, just as importantly, rule out those industries that fail to inspire.

To get closer to the problem we have become enterprise advisors for two local centres: Black Country Young Chamber and The Careers and Enterprise Company. Known as an intervention, our staff attend secondary schools and colleges to develop a connection between students and employers.

We are using the opportunities to make the fenestration industry a viable option for students, where possible. So far, we have helped with improving interview techniques and attended career days where the glazing industry has been promoted as a ‘go to’ career.

We have developed games to challenge the students and change their preconceptions. One which always gets a reaction is where the students have to pitch salary scales across many different industries against those of fenestration. The results have been surprising with many known default careers such as nursing and teaching falling short on salary expectation against roles in fenestration.

Many careers in fenestration can be trained on the job, and with only minimal entry requirements salary expectations can exceed those in other careers. For example, the armed forces is around £24K per year, whereas a sales role in the fenestration industry can be around £26K, once qualified.

Our approach changes when we are involved in our one-to-one mentorship programme, offered for Mayor’s Mentors in conjunction with Halesowen College. Here we have to tailor our support to suit the preferred profession of the student, but this does not mean that fenestration is off-limits; we can still discuss credible career alternatives and explore how other industries compare.

As we are now assigned directly to Halesowen College, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with a class full of students, rather than individuals, teaching employability skills. Most recently, we set a four-lesson programme focused on marketing. The core task challenged them to design an advertisement to engage young people, like themselves, and inspire them to embrace fenestration as a career.

The campaigns will be judged by me and my colleague Debbie Willetts. The adverts will be critiqued against the brief with an emphasis on engagement and appeal. We are really looking forward to seeing what they produce, especially as we have pledged to run the winning campaign on the platform of their choice.