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All of us parents need to help each other - with work experience!

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Anne Diamond | 13:50 UK time, Tuesday, 23 November 2010

surgeon in the operating theatre

One of the biggest headaches of being a parent at the moment is...not the washing...nor even the expense. It's finding work experience for your kids.

Nowadays, it's the hidden must-have for any youngster who wants a decent job, or place at university. You have to have work experience. And the bigger the aspiration, the better the university, the more competitive the course, the harder it is to find meaningful and worthwhile work experience.

Yet most companies and industries are doing naff all about it. Many say they offer work experience but all they do is take on your fifteen-year-old for a few days and do nothing with them. Well, it's difficult, they say - what you can possibly entrust a youngster to do?
I understand the problem, but it's one we must all solve together - us parents, together with schools and businesses.

One of my sons wanted desperately to be a doctor. Nothing would shake his determination - not even the fact that he needed at least 3 A* at A level, and one of them had to be chemistry, not his strongest subject.

Not even when I spelled out how hard he would have to work, how many years he would be in college, and predicted the size of his student loan which he would one day have to pay back, would be budge from his dream.

So the next HUGE task was to find him work experience. Because NO WAY can you get into any medical school without it.

In the end, after trying everything we could think of, filling in countless forms for all nearby local health authorities, I managed to find a friendly surgeon (who once removed my gall bladder) who agreed to take my son into his clinic for a couple of days. Luckily, his local PCT (unusually) agreed to deal with a 17 year old. Most will only take 18 year olds into a hospital - how crazy is that? It's too late, then, to put on your UCAS form!
It was right down in Sussex. Where we DON"T live.

So I arranged for us to go and stay at a little hotel near Chichester, and I commuted to work from there for a week, while my son went into hospital every day. It was fantastic for him. They thrust him in with the first year medical students, He witnessed several days of operations, in full scrubs, and even did ward rounds in a white coat.

I fully expected him to complete the week utterly convinced of his dream. Instead, he gradually realised he wasn't up for it. It was talking with the first year students that did it. He said: "Mum, they're all so CLEVER and yet they're all finding it so hard!"

That is why work experience is so important.

So why is it so difficult to get?

(One of my lads also wanted work experience at the BBC. I found I couldn't help at all, even though I work at the BBC. The BBC has a department set up to deal with applications totally objectively. So please don't expect me to help your offspring on that one, I couldn't even help my own!) But I did once take a daughter's friend into a non-BBC station with me for a week. I've always helped where I can.

Now I think it's time for all parents to help each other properly with their contacts who might be useful work experience providers.

What could we call it?

The Work Experience Parents' Network.

What do you think? Can you help?

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