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How virtual work experience gave me hope – if not a cuppa

How virtual work experience gave me hope – if not a cuppa

“Milk? Sugar? One spoon or two?”

I practiced my tea-making skills for weeks before my big work experience placement.

After all, it isn’t every day that a sport-mad 16-year-old gets the opportunity to do work experience at a bona fide football club. I was going to be shadowing employees, sitting in on meetings, assisting junior training sessions – and, yes, boiling a lot of kettles.

This was back in the olden days (you know, 13 months ago). When there was nothing unusual about planning an internship in a crowded workspace, alongside people I’d never met. I was incredibly excited.

Because ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to work in the sports industry. I’m in the school sports teams, I’m doing PE for GCSE and planning to study sports science at college. I had it all worked out.

But I also knew how competitive the world of sport is. I knew that I wasn’t the only sporty 16-year-old hoping for a career doing what he or she loves most. I knew that to have a chance of getting my dream job in the sports industry, I needed to stand out from the crowd.

So that’s how it all started. Back in January 2020, I trudged along to a school careers lesson. When my teacher Mrs. Hastings announced that work experience is a vital stepping stone to professional life’ I stopped fiddling with the laces on my trainers – and listened. When she offered to help me find a work placement, I took her up on it.

To my amazement, she found me a dream two-week placement at the local football club. It would take place in the Easter holidays. I was over the moon. I dusted off my only smart shirt – and started fine-tuning those tea-making skills.

But as the weeks and months sped by I didn’t realise the world was on the brink of a global pandemic. I had no idea that everything was about to change.

I took the first lockdown in my stride. But when the novelty of lie-ins and extra hours on the X-box wore off I started to worry about my GCSEs. I missed doing competitive sport – and my friends.

Then, on a Friday morning in late March, when I was trying to complete a school assignment in my bedroom, Mrs. Hastings emailed to say that the football club had been in touch. My work experience placement was on hold – possibly for good.

To be honest I didn’t feel great. I’d already missed out on two staples of school life – taking exams and hanging out with friends – but this was one blow too many. With company doors shut for the foreseeable, it dawned on me that I may NEVER get to experience working life in the traditional way.

Not only was I missing out on fantastic experiences but this felt like another Covid-related piece of bad luck that was going to push me and my generation further down the recruitment food chain?

After all, you don’t need a string of 9s at GCSE to know that when an employer decides to hire, they go for the candidates with the most experience. If me and my friends couldn’t get the vital experience, where did that leave us?

I spent the summer in the garden teaching my eight-year-old brother to score penalties. But while his goals improved, mine flatlined. When we finally went back to school, I wore a face mask and tried not to look anxious. With most of the adults I knew working from home, I couldn’t imagine how ANY job was possible, let alone one in the sports industry.

But then, one break time in September, Mrs. Hastings came up to me. She told me about a Virtual Work Experience (VWEX) programme run by the Changing Education Group. These were the same people, she said, who had helped fix me up with my original placement – the one that I’d been SO excited about back in February. ‘Andrew,’ she said, ‘This could be a great opportunity for you.’

For the first time in months, I felt the stirrings of an unfamiliar emotion: hope.

Mrs. Hastings explained that the Changing Education Group knew how important it was to offer students a taste of the working world. But instead of waiting for the world to change back to normal, they were adapting to the current situation – so that me and other young people wouldn’t miss out.

Using a clever piece of software, VWEX works alongside schools and employers to match individual students with suitable work placements. But, in keeping with the current working world, it’s all done virtually.

Which is why, last month, I got to do what I had begun to think was impossible. I got first-hand experience of what it’s like to work in the sports industry.

VWEX matched me up with some brilliant online events. I attended live masterclass sessions and industry insight sessions. I’ve spoken to loads of people in the sports industry – from sports therapists to sales execs. And I’ve been able to get advice about my own career path.

It hasn’t been the same as a traditional work placement – but then again it isn’t trying to be. In a world of turbulence, uncertainty, and working from home, it has given me the very best alternative. More importantly, it has given me back my dream.

And those vital tea-making skills haven’t gone to waste either. Just ask my family!

Andrew is just one of hundreds of students and young people whose futures have been transformed by our VWEX programme.

For confidentiality reasons, names have been changed.

Author: Amos Madra (Careers Advisor and VWEX Host for the Changing Education Group)

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