W4MP gets lots of enquiries about work experience from students and others looking for a chance to spend time in an MP’s office. We also get asked – by staff of MPs – for guidelines on how to best organise a work experience placement. As you will see below, there are some helpful guidelines from Commons Departments and others on best practice and we have put these together with our own tips on how to make the experience a positive one for all concerned. The guide should be useful tool for MPs and their staff as well as for those seeking work experience.
Parliament has additional information on its website.
- Who will take work experience staff?
- How do you get work experience with an MP?
- What help is there for offices who wish to take someone on work experience?
- Do you have computers which people on work experience can use?
- How long should work experience last?
- What sort of work should the individuals do?
- Going out to schools
- Health & Safety
Who will take work experience staff?
Some MPs enjoy having work experience students in their office, some don’t. To a certain extent, a lot depends on the attitude and the workload of the MP’s staff. After all, it is the regular staff who will spend most time with them.
How do you get work experience with an MP?
The simplest way is to contact the MP’s office and ask. Be sure to give them the following details:
- Who you are
- Which educational establishment you attend
- Which courses you are studying
- Why you think that working in an MP’s office is relevant to you
- How long you’d like the work experience to be – a few days, a week, two weeks, a month, etc.
Be aware that there may be many people applying for work experience sessions, and that the MP is most likely to select those people for whom it will be of most benefit. Therefore, if you don’t plan on a career or further study in politics, it is probably not worth your while applying for work experience in an MP’s office.
If you are a teacher seeking information on work experience placements, do talk to the MP or his/her staff. Tell them what you would expect of them, and find out what the MP and staff are prepared to do for your students.
If you are a college or university student looking for a longer-term work experience placement, have a look at the Internship advertisements in the job section of this site.
What help is there for offices who wish to take someone on work experience?
The Department for Resources has produced a Guide for Managers, which contains lots of useful information and suggestions for a structured work experience plan.
If you work for an MP and you are considering taking on work experience students, it is always a good idea to talk to other MPs’ staff too, to hear about their experiences and handy hints.
Do you have computers which people on work experience can use?
Be aware, that if your office has only computers supplied by PDS (formerly PICT), whether they be loaned or purchased, there is no longer a facility for a ‘guest, ‘local’ or ‘admin’ login, so people who do not have both security clearance and a network account will not be able to access those computers at all. As most of the work in an MP’s office involves using a computer, this restriction will affect the type of task you are able to give to the student and may be a deciding factor in whether or not you can offer a work experience placement at all, particularly if it is just for one or two weeks. For students on a longer work placement, e.g. a few months, you can apply for security clearance and a network account through the normal channels; they do not need to be formally employed to apply for these.
How long should work experience last?
This all depends on the age of the student, whether or not they are at school, college or university, and if they are carrying out the work experience during term-time or holidays.
- High-school pupils tend to have shorter work experience periods, ranging from a single day, up to a fortnight.
- Sixth-formers usually have term-time work experience of one or two weeks.
- University students may have considerably longer placements from one to nine months, depending on their course of study.
What sort of work should work experience people do?
This all depends on the age and relevant knowledge of the student, and also the location of the work experience, i.e. in Westminster or in the Constituency.
A secondary school pupil will be likely to want to obtain general office experience, whereas a college or university student will want to carry out more in-depth work relevant to their studies.
The first thing you should do is ask the student to sign a confidentiality agreement, and ensure that they understand what it means.
Before you start giving the student things to do, introduce them to the rest of the office staff, explain to them about the nature of the Constituency and, if the placement is in the Constituency office, perhaps you could give them a mini-tour of the Constituency so that they have a better idea of how big the area is, and what the different parts of the Constituency are like.
Whilst it is tempting to give students the jobs you don’t want to do, e.g. filing, photocopying, stuffing envelopes, etc. it is not very fair on them. After all, how would you like it if you were given nothing but the most menial tasks every day for the entire work experience period? Would it encourage you to go into politics for a career? Although these jobs are part of every day office tasks, you should make the effort to give the student as wide a variety of experience as possible, and make it interesting for them. You never know, they may be your employees (or even employers) of the future.
- simple casework, depending on the age and ability of the student
- researching an issue in the library or on the Internet
- taking press-cuttings, writing press releases
- accompanying the MP to a meeting or event in the House or in the Constituency (perhaps the student could take photographs for the MP’s website?)
- keeping a diary
It is often a good idea, at the beginning of the placement, to ask if the student has any particular areas of interest or expertise, or if there are any skills they’d like to hone while they’re in your office.
It is important to give work experience students feedback on the tasks that they carry out in an MP’s office. Although you will want to talk to the student about each task, it would benefit them if you could give them written feedback at the end of their placement, and supply a copy to their educational establishment, if appropriate. Not only will it enable them to see how well they have performed, but it will also serve as a useful aide-memoire for them when they apply for paid employment.
Time for Q & A. During the placement, try and find time for a one-to-one chat with the student, to allow them to ask more general questions they might have about the job. Try to find 45 minutes where you won’t be distracted, perhaps take your student out of the office for coffee.
Going out to schools
Some MPs’ offices have very good relationships with local schools and colleges. In 1998, Unicef held a campaign called ‘Put it to your MP’, encouraging MPs to go into schools (both primary and secondary) and colleges to talk to pupils and students and hold advice surgeries, Q&A sessions and mini-conferences. Although that campaign is no longer active, some MPs still visit schools regularly for such sessions and often receive work experience enquiries from interested parties.
MPs or their staff often visit secondary schools and colleges to attend ‘Career Fairs’ and to give presentations on the various aspects of working in politics, whether it be working for an MP, being an elected representative, or working in some other political field such as journalism, research, lobbying etc. In talking to young people about their work, MPs often offer week-long work experience ‘slots’ in their offices over the summer recess. These are usually sought-after, and you may need to have some sort of formal application process in order to choose those students for whom it will have most benefit.
You could write to the educational establishments and careers service in your area and let them know that you are prepared to take on work experience students, and give them information on the service you are prepared to offer.
Health & Safety for Work Experience Students
The Occupational Health, Safety & Welfare Service has produced a guide for MPs entitled ‘Managing Health & Safety for Work Experience Students‘. This is aimed primarily at students working on the Parliamentary Estate, but it is still useful for Constituency offices and contains a checklist which Managers should go through carefully.
The educational establishment may wish to send a risk-assessor to your office. It would be helpful to them, and speed up their assessment if you have already been through the OHSWS guide in advance.
The OHSWS has also produced useful a Members’ Health & Safety Checklist.
[First version by KLL June 2008]