Small investment, big return: job-shadowing during your holidays

Senior high school learners and students can make a huge, positive impact on their future career paths if they spend a few days of their lengthy winter holidays job-shadowing, an education expert says.

“Although job-shadowing is not yet as formally structured within companies in South Africa as it is abroad, young people should nevertheless commit to finding shadowing opportunities and then using those opportunities to their full potential,” says Peter Kriel, General Manager of The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

Additionally, companies should consider introducing structured job-shadow opportunities over holidays, to enable as many young people as possible to experience the reality of the world of work, and to consider their career options, he says.

Kriel says that too often prospective students make decisions about their careers and the qualifications they want to pursue based on a limited insight and understanding of what a field entails, based on general perceptions and even media portrayals.

“That is a contributing factor to students quitting their studies within the first year, when they realise their ideas about a career were far removed from the reality,” he says.

Other students push through but become disillusioned soon after graduating and entering the workplace, when they realise they would never have chosen a specific career if they knew what it entailed.

“Job shadowing – not to be confused with an internship – is usually an opportunity that lasts for only a few days, when a student or learner gets to accompany someone in a specific role going about their daily work,” says Kriel.

“Ideally, young people should do a few job shadowing stints, in different companies and in different fields, whereafter they will have a much better feel for what potential future gets them truly motivated and excited.”

In addition to providing invaluable insight into potential careers, job shadowing also allows young people to start building their CVs and their experience. Especially during the early years after graduation, when all employers want “experience” but few candidates are yet able to display any, job shadowing shows commitment and drive. On top of that, job shadowers may indeed even be able to add some actual experience as well, in cases where they were given some tasks to fulfil.

“Job shadowing also allows young people to identify mentors and start building networks and contacts in their field, which could become extremely useful later, particularly where they make a favourable impression,” says Kriel.

To make the most of the experience, he advises job-shadowers to:

  • Investigate various fields and companies over the last 3 years of school, and invest a day or two during each holiday shadowing people working in the roles they are interested in pursuing.
  • Investigate various companies and roles when already studying towards a qualification, to find their best fit and potential niche within a field.
  • Not just tail the employee they are shadowing, but to speak to other people, look at company materials, and immerse themselves in the experience by trying to understand various roles and their responsibilities.
  • Enquire about the types and levels of qualifications required and/or preferred for various positions that interest them, to be able to make informed decisions about what and where to study further.
  • Couple the job shadowing experience with a deliberate methodology that not only includes observing and talking to people but also a process of documenting their impressions in writing and reconfirming their understanding with the host employer.

“Job-shadowing provides the kind of important insights that can make a real difference when plotting and defining one’s career path,” says Kriel.

He says learners and students who are interested in job-shadowing should look online as well as do their own research. In addition, they should familiarise themselves with some of the basic protocols to follow when applying for job-shadowing opportunities.

“Some companies already advertise these opportunities online, and these can be found with a simple Google search. But don’t be put off if you don’t immediately see advertised something in your chosen field or in your area.

“Do the legwork – literally and figuratively – to find the company and department in which you’d like to start your hunt. Identify the correct person to speak to and make contact. And finally, make sure you are professional in all your interactions – from the first contact, through the job-shadowing and until your final thank you for the chance – to ensure you optimise your learning and potential future opportunities.”

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