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Work experience is the experience that a person has working, or working in a specific field or occupation.

Volunteer work and internships

The phrase is sometimes used to mean a type of volunteer work that is commonly intended for young people — often students — to get a feel for professional working environments. This usage is common in the United Kingdommarker, while the American equivalent is intern.

Though the placements are usually unpaid, travel and food expenses are sometimes covered, and at the end of the appointment, a character reference is usually provided. Trainees usually have the opportunity to network and make contacts among the working personnel, and put themselves forward for forthcoming opportunities for paid work.

Many employers in the more sought after professions (eg TV, politics, journalism) demand that every new entrant undergo a period of unpaid "work experience" before being able to get paid work. In most cases this is effectively "experience through work" and is contrary to the Minimum Wage regulations if unpaid. Such is the demand for this kind of work that very few complain about this and so the practice continues illegally.

Educational work experience at secondary Level in Australia and the United Kingdom

Work experience is offered on the national curriculum for students in Years 10 and 11 in the United Kingdommarker (4th year in Scotlandmarker) and Australia; every student has a statutory right to take work experience if he or she wishes. Work experience in this context is when students in an adult working environment more or less act as an employee, but with the emphasis on learning about the world of work. Placements are limited by safety and security restrictions, insurance cover and availability, and do not necessarily reflect eventual career choice but instead allow a broad experience of the world of work.

If a student fails to find a placement then he or she may sometimes be forced to attend school everyday, continuing the normal school day or doing a placement around the school such as aiding the caretaker for example, or helping out elsewhere in the school, such as with language and PE departments, or with ICT technicians.

Students are not prohibited from working at a company outside the conurbation of the city or abroad. Routine safety checks on the companies are now more thorough and students who arrange placements at failed companies are forced to find a new placement; companies which fail to comply with statutory requirements for insurance and child protection may be prohibited from officially taking students (this depends upon the LEA).

Most students do not get paid for their time doing work experience however some employers do give money to the students, as this is considered part of their education. The duration varies according to the course the student is on and various other personal circumstances; the vast majority of students will go out on work experience for one or two weeks in a year, while some students will work in a particular workplace perhaps one or two days a week for extended periods of time throughout the year, either for vocation reasons and commitment to alternative curricula or because they have social and/or behavioural problems.

University-level work experience

At the university level, work experience is often offered between the second and final years of an undergraduate degree course, especially in the science, engineering and computing fields. Courses of this nature are often called sandwich courses, with the work experience year itself known as the sandwich year. During this time, the students on work placement have the opportunity to use the skills and knowledge gained in their first two years, and see how they are applied to real world problems. This then can offer then useful insights for their final year and prepares them for the job market once their course has finished. Some companies also have the means to sponsor students in their final year at university with the promise of a job at the end of the course. This can act as an incentive for the student to perform well during the placement as helps with two otherwise unwelcome stresses: the lack of money in the final year, and finding a job for when the University course completes.

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