A voluntary work experience week is now a valuable part of the secondary school curriculum for students following the UK-based General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) programme.
I discovered that during one specified week when my Year 10 teenager had to step outside the classroom and into the real world by working in a placement offered by a participating employer. I was told that this was to prepare students for the work environment, by developing their self-confidence and communication skills, broadening their outlook, understanding a specific career and appreciating skills that employers look for in an employee.
All that was good news, for getting any employment these days concerns all of us parents. While most schools set the foundations for this week, the 14- to 15-year-olds have to find the placements themselves.
"Work experience reflects the way education is going," says Allan Forbes, former head teacher, The English College. "There's a lot more independent research and thinking expected from the student. Now it is more about passing responsibility onto the students to do the learning themselves, making the learning experience so much broader."
Forbes says that The English College — under their first Careers Coordinator Chris Short — introduced the concept of work experience for students during the first year of the GCSE programme in Dubai way back in 1998 when it wasn't even officially a part of the curriculum.
Learning life skills
Jumeirah College (JC) has offered the programme for five years, usually before the April spring break. "Many of our students take this opportunity to work abroad and continue their placement over two or three weeks during the holidays," says Amanda Jewell, Careers Adviser, JC. "Even if they decide that the career is not for them, they return with an understanding about timekeeping, appropriate behaviour in the workplace, dealing with clients, etc."
Finding a placement sometimes needs a nudge in the right direction, and this often comes from friends and family. My son wanted to try the hospitality industry and Dubai being the kind of place where it's all about whom you know, a friend of a friend came up with a contact at the head office of a major hotel group.
My boy Shaun Mandy then organised a work placement with one of the group's five-star hotels nearest to home, applying via email and telephone to the HR department concerned. He was given a programme that allowed him to explore every department of the hotel.
"The kitchens were the most interesting. I made some pastries and cakes and saw how banquets were prepared. I think I could consider a career in catering, possibly as a chef," he says.
Careers popular among students include those in finance, law, education, media and animal-related practices. Employers that have taken on Year 10 students in Dubai include 3M, Upandrunning, Delta Sound and Lighting, Family and Friends Community Centre, Dubai Autodrome and a number of top advertising companies.
Shireen Aziz, EC's current Careers Coordinator, finds employers that initially took on one or two students at the same time are now offering to take up to eight and are creating workshops specifically for the students.
Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) recently introduced this work experience programme thanks to the efforts of Claire Duncalf, deputy head of sixth form. Ayesha Sabharwal, Head Girl at DESC, completed a week at Culture and Co, a French bookstore. She says the experience enabled her to improve her fluency in French.
"Although at first the language difference was hard for me, I overcame it and it became a very worthwhile experience and I now have an internship during the summer, which I am looking forward to," she says.
Carmella Hunt, Communications Officer, DESC, says the experience definitely give students an edge when applying for further education or competing in the job market.
The London Business Group based in Dubai supports the concept, as Managing Director Gary Arnold says: "Knowledge and experience are the pillars of success and, as part of our CSR initiative, we strive to support the young minds of our society, guiding them to better plan their careers, while giving them a glimpse of a corporate environment."
More schools in Dubai continue to introduce the work experience concept. Dubai College (DC) is to launch a work shadowing programme for senior students using its alumni during the next academic year, says Peter Hill, Headmaster DC.
I would say that after one week of the programme my son emerged more confident, worldly wise and would "love to do it all over again" if he could.