ALL groups of young people have their work experience horror stories. Making tea and endless hours of photocopying and filing are nothing compared with some students’ experiences as a “workie”. For years the attitude of some companies towards students on work experience has ranged from cheap labour to outright exploitation.
But one company in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire has never taken advantage of the students on its temporary staff and is now reaping big rewards for treating them as responsible employees. A number of the permanent workforce joined e4education on work experience and the company sees it as a great way to discover new talent.
e4education creates websites for schools across the UK. It employs art and design staff, technical experts, a busy sales team and several support staff at its modern offices. John Roach (left) is the managing director at e4education and as his own children approached work experience age he heard about the plight of one particular student. It made him angry.
“It was the son of a family friend who had the most awful experience,” he said. “The poor guy was made to clean out a filthy storeroom with tins of chemicals and God knows what in there. It was clear that the company just used this lad to do their dirty work because none of them were prepared to do it.
“We are a young company, employing young people in a very young industry. Our business appeals to students and so we do get approaches for work experience, but I was determined we would never, ever exploit them. What I didn’t anticipate was how many of them would stay, or come back to us after they finished studying. Taking students on work experience and allowing them to show us what they can do has really paid off for us.”
Grant French (left) went to e4education for a year in 2005 as a mid-course work placement. His work experience continued after he returned to university. “I continued to maintain products and servers but to a lesser extent due to time constraints,” says Grant. “I always went back to work for e4education during the holidays.” He’s now the company’s permanent development manager with five people reporting to him.
Pete Hotchkin (right) studied digital art and technology at Plymouth. His sandwich course gave him a middle year in the industry so he sent his CV to e4education on the off-chance. John Roach started him on web content administration before moving him to customer support. Pete also devoted his own time to developing his skills in a professional creative environment. He eventually spent 14 months at e4education before returning to Plymouth to complete his studies.
Like many people his age, Pete has the urge to travel and see the world. As an indicator of how much his work at the company has been appreciated, e4education has offered him the permanent job of media developer when he returns.
“It’s brilliant,” says Pete. “Working in customer support helped me see how the company works from the clients’ perspective and allowed me to put ideas forward to Grant. They actually asked me to specify my own role and now I get to travel round the world for a few months knowing there’s a great job here waiting for me when I come back.”
Another young man with wanderlust is Nick Myers. Nick (left) is spending the summer at e4education before taking a computer science degree at Lancaster. “I didn’t expect a gap year,” says Nick, “but I couldn’t get the course I wanted last year. I took a job as an IT technician at a school in Peterborough and that’s where I heard about e4education. My computer science degree includes a stint at university in America – North Carolina or California, I can’t decide – so the money I’ve earned is a big help.” There’s no need to feel sorry for the work experience students at e4education.
Some of them come back for a second visit. Jenny Arthur (left) expected her first visit in 2008 to be “very techy” and admits that she isn’t very technically-minded. Despite this, she has been involved with writing user guides for the podcasts and e-shops that can be built into an e4education school website. “The fact that I didn’t break a computer was an achievement,” says Jenny. The really exciting stuff for Jenny was the sales research. She’s interested in demographics, geography and economics, so when e4education starts to conduct deeper research into its potential markets, watch out for Jenny Arthur getting involved.
Lucy Banks (right) has crammed a lot into her week at e4education. “I’ve visited two schools and I went on a client visit,” she says. “The sales meeting was interesting. The salesperson was very persuasive and made it look easy.” Lucy learned how to record and edit podcasts on a computer. “I’m into performance so I enjoyed the editing. I liked perfecting the podcast,” says Lucy. “I was also impressed by the complexity of the business and the diversity of the work.”
Probably the furthest travelled work experience student at e4education so far is 18-year-old Christian Weiser from Munich in Germany. Christian (left) spent ten days of his 17-day exchange visit with the company. “The exchange visit was arranged through Oundle School and when I told them I am interested in IT and media, the school contacted e4education,” explains Christian. “Learning about the web technology has definitely helped prepare me for my degree in engineering technology.”
Students reading this could do a lot worse than contact e4education. Web development, multimedia art and education are all very exciting employment sectors and the company continues to expand. As it grows it will need new talent and John Roach is committed to providing his “workies” with a rich, rewarding experience. And maybe even a career.
*e4education is a client of NorthLight Media Ltd, publisher of PeterboroughBusiness.co.uk and this feature has been distributed as a press release by NorthLight Media on behalf of e4education.