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WORK experience should be a valuable experience for young people, providing an interesting insight into the world of work and a taster of a future career choice.

Unfortunately, for many, work experience can mean spending a week in the office making coffee or photocopying endless reams of paper. I appreciate it can be difficult for employers to dedicate the time to ensure the experience is valuable for the student and beneficial for the company. Schools are also under pressure to ensure that all their pupils get a placement.

The figures for Wales in 2009-10 show that 33,086 pupils at Key Stage 4 took part in work experience, 4,709 school pupils in the 16-19 age group and 1,232 at further education colleges.

That's 39,026 work placements provided by 17,571 employers - quite a major logistical operation.

However, to have any value, work experience has to be meaningful.

Positive experiences of work can show young people there are many paths to success - some take the academic route, others opt for vocational training, while many may choose to run their own business.

As a mother of two daughters, I appreciate how important work experience is for young people who are trying to decide what career to follow.

They were very fortunate and had some really great placements, which can provide the springboard for a future career or provide a turning point in another direction.

I also have experience on the other side of the fence and get many requests from young people looking for work experience.

I take the responsibility extremely seriously and endeavour to give them a rounded view of the life of a politician.

We should not underestimate the importance of the time these young people spend working in offices, hospitals, schools, stores, factories as it is, for many, their first taste of a working environment. A negative experience can make them feel disillusioned.

We must remember these young people are the employers and employees of tomorrow and we have a duty to prepare them and ensure they get a great introduction to work.

This is why I am pleased to announce that in partnership with Business in the Community, the Welsh Assembly Government is launching The Real Conversation in Cardiff next week, which brings young people and business leaders together.

The subject of The Real Conversation will be work experience and how we can bridge the gap between the classroom and the world of work through effective and inspiring work experience.

The conversation will be between school pupils and employers to create a better understanding of what we can do to ensure young people's first experience of work is meaningful, relevant and inspiring.

Fifty business leaders have agreed to give up their time to meet 50 local young people to discuss the best way of delivering a meaningful work experience.

There will be presentations as well as informal discussions around what work experience is currently like, how to improve it and what young people need from the experience.

In a nutshell, the aim is to kick-start an open discussion on what work experience should look like in order to drive up the quality of work experience in Wales.

It is a model developed by Business in the Community in England and proved very effective.

Similar events are planned for other areas of Wales and we want young people to join in the conversation and participate through the website and other social media sites.

There are some excellent and inspiring videos on the web where successful individuals give quite frank and often amusing insights into their careers, their work experiences and the barriers they faced and overcame. Lesley Griffiths is Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills in the Assembly Government
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 10, 2011
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