Challenges and opportunities for all with work experience placements

Challenges and opportunities for all with work experience placements

We find out more about the key challenges and opportunities farmers can expect with offering work experience placements on a farm.
Children cutting apples during a class at Susan's Farm, Carlisle.
Students taking part in lessons at Susan's Farm, Carlisle.
Students taking part in lessons at Susan's Farm, Carlisle.
Students taking part in lessons at Susan's Farm, Carlisle.

Helen Ward is the inspirational Education Manager for Susan’s Farm, Carlisle. She spoke to our Careers Manager, Ruthie Peterson, about the challenges and opportunities surrounding work experience placements.

Susan’s Farm is an educational charity set up by pioneering former nurse Susan Aglionby 25 years ago. 

As a working farm, it occupies around 81 hectares (200 acres) across two sites - with longhorn cattle, sheep and an obstinate pony, among others, and an area of wetland. 

The charity provides various opportunities for students of all ages and stages to engage in meaningful work experiences across growing, land management, teamwork, and animal care. In recent years, the charity has hosted animal care apprentices, occupational therapists, Ph.D. students, school children receiving education out of school, medical students and school children on secondary work experience weeks or primary school trips.   

Some of the students learning outside of school placed at the farm have changed out of recognition from those who weren’t thriving in the formal school environment. One such student found the whole experience so transformational that, despite not being a morning person, he arrived at the farm at 5.20am one morning!  

You may also wonder what a medical student gained from working on the farm, and this example is particularly unexpected. This student needed to work with individuals and teams dealing with complex physical and mental health needs. The contacts they made at Susan’s Farm provided them with communication tests and quick multi-tasking opportunities that even a GP surgery placement couldn’t match!  

Farm making a real difference to schoolchildrens' lives

In 2022, Susan’s Farm had more than 2,000 school trip students through its gates, with non-school students on site 252 days and 864 care farming days recorded, and numbers are promising to be even higher in 2023. Some of these placements are funded through colleges, educational and health care plans, or the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Here though, is where the challenges for farmers and growers really begin; to offer personal work experience for students, the farm must generate enough income to fund and offer these placements themselves. This is because most personal work experiences are unfunded, whether personally negotiated or provided through school/college weeks or fortnights.

Different ages and profiles of career seekers have different needs in terms of safeguarding and health and safety, but Helen works tirelessly with the various initial contacts to ensure all requirements are met. These twin challenges of funding for work experience and support with statutory protection are the main barriers faced by work experience providers. As an industry, we must consider how these issues can be tackled to allow more individuals to have their first positive contacts in the industry like those detailed above. Once these contacts have inspired a passion for the industry, it’s hoped these individuals can go on to establish fulfilling and meaningful careers.

You can find out more about National Work Experience Week 2023 on our special hub page by searching Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for #NWEW2023.

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