In a report out this week, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills found that 66% of employers say that work experience is a crucial factor when recruiting new candidates.

We all know how valuable work experience can be at providing young people an insight into a particular job or industry, the chance to develop essential skills and gain valuable experiences to add to their CVs and talk about during interviews. If employers are placing such high value on work experience, why are only 20% of schools and only 12% of colleges offering work experience to students?

Some students find themselves in a Catch-22 situation where they want to enter the job market, but find it difficult (and some cases impossible) to find work without having any work experience on their CVs, and difficult to obtain experience without any work!

Despite the unemployment figures in the UK falling, a staggering 40% of all unemployed people are 25 and under. I hope that you will agree with me in saying that these are alarming statistics that don’t paint a very positive picture for the young people in our country.

With 52% of employers offering school leaver programmes and apprenticeships this year, there seems to be a disjoint between government policy, employers and schools. On the one side you’ve got government making work experience non-compulsory, and on the other side, you’ve got employers crying out for school and college leavers to have some work experience. The dots clearly do not join up!

“But young people should go out there and secure work experience for themselves” I hear you say! We agree, and this is exactly what we advise the students we meet to do, but when you’ve got a lack of support from your school or college, or you are unable to afford travel or expenses, or can’t get work experience because you don’t have any work experience (that old chestnut), what can students do? Here are some of our top tips for getting out of the Catch-22 situation.

1. Voluntary work. With over 20 million people across the UK donating more than 100 million hours to volunteer each week, it’s no surprise that this one is number one on our list. Volunteering can help develop key skills that employers are looking for as well as providing a valuable opportunity to add to your CV and the chance to do some good. Many charities will cover travel expenses and give you some money for lunch too. There are plenty of great websites where you can search for opportunities by location, interests, availability, etc., so get online and start searching.

2. Insight events. There are a small collection of employers that host insight events where students have the chance to learn about the company, network with employees and work on group exercises. Most employers will require students to complete application forms to attend, but it’s definitely worth the effort! And these employers will do not require students to have any previous work experience.

3. Work shadowing. Here is where you need to contact your mum’s friend’s aunt’s brother who works for your dream company doing your dream job! In other words, use your contacts to find people who work in jobs that you are interested in, and ask if you can shadow them for a day or two. We suggest doing this formally through an email or letter explaining why you would like to do this and how you think you will benefit, but again, it’s worth the effort. You will probably need to do some serious networking to find people who can help, but you can read an old blog post of mine which covers this in more detail.

4. All experience is good experience. Don’t let anyone tell you that paper rounds, babysitting and working for your family business on the weekend aren’t impressive or credible experiences to include on your CV. You will be learning some excellent skills that employers will be keen to hear about. Remember, employers will be looking at how you apply the skills you have learnt to the new role or job at hand, so the more evidence you can provide the better!

5. Do something. We understand how challenging it can be to gain work experience, but employers are looking for you to do something with your time, even if this involves helping out at school (bring a prefect, parents evenings, being house captain, etc.) fundraising for charity, attending public lectures, summer schools and taster courses…the list is endless. You just need to be creative and think outside of the box.