Work experience vital for unlocking talent

SMEs HR decision makers want to hire entry level candidates that have completed work experience according to new research, but struggle to find suitable candidates. The research* from LifeSkills, created with Barclays surveyed 500 small and medium sized businesses across the UK to understand their approach to recruiting young people and entry level recruits.


More than three quarters (77%) of SMEs say that entry level candidates who have completed work experience are a good source of talent. Unfortunately, despite recognising the value of entry level recruits with work experience, one in five (19%) small businesses say that the biggest barrier to offering work experience is that they are unable to find suitable candidates.

SMEs account for 99% of all businesses in the UK and employ 24.3 million people. According to their HR decision makers, young people at entry level lack a range of basic skills when they start work. More than half (55%) of those surveyed said that they felt young people lacked relationship skills and were unable to handle clients, customers and suppliers. Appropriate work behaviour was also a concern, with two in four (43%) worried about them using their mobile phone while at work or taking too long breaks, and nearly half (41%) worry they lack time management and punctuality skills.

Kirstie Mackey, head of LifeSkills Barclays work experience said: ‘Small and medium sized businesses are an incredibly important source of employment, yet this research shows they perceive a disconnect between the skills they need and those of young people at entry level. Work experience is a really valuable way of closing this gap but it is worrying that so many SMEs struggle to offer opportunities because they can’t find suitable candidates.’

‘We have to do more to help businesses connect with education providers to make work experience possible. That’s why we created LifeSkills, an education and work experience programme that includes a commitment from Barclays to offer 10,000 work experience placements to young people all over the UK. We want every business, large and small, to get involved and support them to offer work experience that will help transform the opportunities available to young people.’

Businesses have a vital role to play in ensuring young people are work-ready when they leave education. They can do this through partnerships with young people and education providers to give support and opportunities at different stages of young people’s transition into work. This can start with offering work experience and move to more in-depth schemes such as traineeships and apprenticeships. LifeSkills created with Barclays, it is a curriculum based education programme to support teachers through practical, free resources. It also offers businesses support by providing key opportunities to young people, including a work experience matching portal. To find out more and register for information go to

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