Brilliant ways employers can collaborate with schools

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Working with schools is a rewarding way to boost your company’s talent pool and reputation. Here are some smart ideas to help.

The advent of apprenticeships has helped reframe the way many employers look at school leavers and the value they can bring to their organisations. Due to these schemes’ success, many organisations have now started reaching out to local schools to recruit and engage young talent through programmes such as careers fairs, insight weeks, digital mentoring and internships.

But what do schools get out of this arrangement? And how can your organisation set up a similar scheme? Here, we hear about some different schemes and the benefits they offer.

Try the sixth-form AAT qualification

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Run a ‘virtual insight’ event and digital mentoring platform

Expert: Rob Worrall, Head of People, BDO.

What is it? Every year, leading accountancy firm BDO hosts its ‘Explore BDO Virtual Insight Programme’, a three-day scheme giving young people in Years 10-12 (age 14-17 years old) from less privileged backgrounds a taste of what a career at BDO could look like. Students need to apply and take a small test first, but once they pass, they’ll spend the three days attending online workshops and receiving tuition on developing work experience and skills for their CV.

Meanwhile, BDO Hive is a digital networking platform published on the firm’s Connect channel whereby students of all ages can develop their communication skills and learn more about BDO by connecting with the company’s employees. The students can also access resources and learning modules on wellbeing, exam stress and employability skills.

1. It’s a potential source of new talent

“Working with school-leavers allows us to access talented individuals [who have] a fresh set of skills, ideas and perspectives,” says Rob Worrall, head of people at BDO. He also points out that some students who participated in the firm’s Explore BDO Programmes have since joined the company as school-leaver trainees.

2. It can boost diversity and social mobility

“Tapping into a pool of school-leavers means accessing people from a more diverse set of backgrounds who have had different experiences and [therefore] bring to BDO different perspectives, ideas and attitudes,” says Worrall. “Meanwhile, our annual Explore BDO Virtual Insight Programme supports our ambition to improve social mobility in the profession.”

3. It can attract pupils to your apprenticeship scheme

“We see it as our collective responsibility to highlight opportunities beyond a university degree or graduate programme,” says Worrall. “[School programmes] raise awareness of our apprenticeship programmes… It’s important to build relationships with schools so students can take advantage of our knowledge and expertise, making an informed choice for their future.”

“Early engagement is crucial,” adds Worrall, noting that it’s equally as important to inform 14 and 15-year-olds about apprenticeships as sixth-form students.

Benefits of a digital mentoring programme

The vocational learning pupils receive through programmes such as those offered by BDO may make them more confident. “There’s no doubt the pandemic and its social economic impact has taken a toll on some young people,” says Worrall, who notes “the additional learning and development opportunities around personal brand” can help school-leavers become more workplace-ready.

Speaking with BDO employees may also help develop pupils’ personal self-belief.

“These programmes are just as much about being proud of your personality and background as it is BDO positioning ourselves as an employer-of-choice to those students,” says Worrall. “[Such schemes] give them the opportunity to ask questions to real people who may have had similar experiences.”

How to organise similar programmes at your organisation

BDO has a partnership with social mobility charity Teach First (, which has access to 1,800 schools across the UK, allowing the firm to reach diverse talent in areas where there may be less awareness of jobs in professional services.

“It’s important to enlist the support of your current employees who can provide real-time authentic engagement to students on school-leaver programmes,” says Worrall. “This gives students a better understanding of where their careers could take them next and gives them an opportunity to ask questions and explore their options.”

Take a modern approach to internships

Expert: Denise Masih, ITG Training and Development Partner,

What is it? In 2022, the Inspired Thinking Group (ITG) – a marketing agency with offices in Birmingham, London and Tamworth – set up its ‘Work Experience Week’, an innovative new programme which sees Year 12 students (age: 16-17) join the company for work experience over the course of one week in different departments.

This year, 23 young people joined the firm for five days, including two days (Monday-Tuesday) visiting the company for office tours and workshops, plus another two days working from home on a project, which they then presented to senior leaders on Friday. Denise Masih, ITG’s Training and Development Partner, explains more…

4 benefits of hosting a ‘work experience week’

1. It opens the door to new talent

Masih: “Last year, one student who attended Work Experience Week enjoyed it so much he applied for ITG’s ‘Circuit’ scheme, where he’ll spend a year working in different parts of the business, hopefully finding a permanent role he likes. We’ve also had other young people join us, who discovered our firm thanks to the scheme. We wouldn’t be able to do that if we didn’t offer this kind of scheme. If any of the other students want to join us afterwards, we’d be delighted if they applied.”

2. Students come out of their shell

Masih: “When a Year 12 student interns at an unfamiliar business, it can be daunting. Many organisations report on the struggles they have communicating with this generation. But with a ‘Work Experience Week’, these students are experiencing the workplace with 20 or so of their friends/fellow pupils, so there’s none of that awkwardness: they hit the ground running straight away.”

3. It helps businesses understand younger employees

Masih: “Businesses can get a real insight into future generations, plus how they think and use technology and social media. Whenever we’re putting together a campaign to reach younger generations, we can draw upon our learnings from Work Experience Week.

4. It can upskill existing staff

Masih: “Organising something like Work Experience Week takes a lot of logistical planning, everything from giving them interactive tasks to making sure they’re fed during the week (lunches!). At ITG, we put many of our young people on this, who gained organisational and even management skills they wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

What do schools get from a Work Experience Week?

“Events such as Work Experience Week give schools much more than some internships, which see pupils sitting on desks with nothing to do,” explains Masih. “Work Experience Week helps educate young people about how organisations such as the ITG Group work. Over five days, students encounter different departments such as finance, HR and customer service, which may give them an idea about what sector they’d like to work in. It also helps schools connect with businesses in the local community: useful for events such as careers fairs.”

How to organise a Work Experience Week at your firm

ITG organised Work Experience Week through the Unifrog platform (, which includes all the legal requirements and digitally-signed forms, plus ensures any staff interacting with the students are checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

“There’s not a huge amount of admin, and you certainly won’t need to pay the school, but do touch base with the school beforehand to see if there’s anything you need to be aware of as an employer,” says Masih. “They may tell you to spend more time with a particular student or whether a person has accessibility or dietary needs. Also, forward-planning is essential: we started organising Work Experience Week four months before it happened.”

“You won’t need to accommodate 23 students for a week! But if you can take more than one student – perhaps three – that would be great,” says Masih. “Remember: most schools will be open to internship schemes such as this. If any business rang a school and said, ‘We’d like to offer students some work experience places’, chances are, they’d be very grateful.”

Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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