Why you should host a Job Shadow Day in 2019

Industrial psychologist Phiona Martin explains how to structure a successful event and why it would benefit your organisation.

Many high school learners may never get an opportunity to connect with the world of work until they get employed. Hosting a Job Shadow Day for school learners at your organisation has numerous benefits, including fulfilling a greater social responsibility, particularly if there is a focus on students from disadvantaged communities with limited access to valuable career exploration experiences.

A job shadow event entails inviting several high school learners (preferably between grade 10-12) to shadow some roles within your organisation. Job shadowing is less about doing any actual work and more focused on observing and being exposed to several career options to broaden a student’s scope. It is a meaningful way to connect students with employers, bridging the gap between business and academia by giving school learners real-life insights into the world of work and illustrating what jobs look like in practice. It is a great employer branding exercise to position your company as an employer of choice and can increase staff morale as employees can benefit from the opportunity to engage, mentor and share pertinent career information with young people. It is also a great platform to market and find candidates for the company’s bursary programme.

Structuring a memorable job shadow event
A job shadow event, as the name suggests, is often a short-term activity, which can be hosted over any period from one day to a week. The structure of the event is often at the discretion of the company but there are some key elements to consider in making it a memorable success for all concerned.

Determine the roles you want to highlight. The first consideration in structuring a Job Shadow Day is to determine between exposing your high school guests to a multi-disciplinary large range of roles within the company or focusing on thematic roles e.g. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) related roles only. Focusing on roles that are critical to your company may be of value as those are the key areas that you would likely want to highlight as part of this exercise.

Select a partner school. Depending on the logistical capacity of your company, it may be ideal to partner with one school for the job shadow event or potentially partner with some youth organisations who may have students from various schools within their programme. It is typically easier if there are fewer external touch points in trying to enrol the school learners. Alternatively, employees could also be given an opportunity to nominate students they know to be part of the event. A strong recommendation will be to prioritise high school learners from disadvantaged communities as South Africa’s socio-political history has created a legacy of discrimination and inequality, particularly in the fields of education and career development. In addition, considering the association between low socioeconomic status and unemployment, often learners of lower socioeconomic status require the most assistance in terms of career development.

Inovling role players within the business. To get the benefit of employee participation as part of the job shadow event, there are some key players that need to be involved. These include departments that will participate as host sites for the actual job shadowing, speakers who can share some great career information as part of a plenary session, chaperones/mentors for the day and key leaders who will provide support by being present and visible on the day. It is ideal to select individuals who are engaged, are great company advocates and good representatives of their respective professions.  An important consideration to address ahead of time is the company’s policies and any risks that need to be taken into account regarding the presence of students/minors on the premises.

Structure of the Job Shadow Day. The structure of the event will vary according to each company, but there are some key elements that need to be included to give a well-rounded and memorable experience to the school learners.

Pre-event day. A pre-event day to orientate staff and participating students (in separate sessions) is key to ensure a smooth running of the program on the actual event day. For the school learners, it will involve setting expectations for the event day, going through the programme, doing a company tour and introductions, logistics and basic guidelines on matters like dress code, expected behaviour, pre-reading materials, questions to ask on the day, etc. For the participating staff, a similar onboarding exercise will have to be conducted, focusing on roles and responsibilities as well as programme expectations.

Event day. The event day can consist of a myriad of activities over and above the actual job shadowing. These can include a plenary session with some great speakers including key leaders, some panel discussions and Q&As. It would also be useful to allow the learners to provide some feedback and key learnings after the day’s activities. Lastly, give advice on what the next steps the learners can take. This can be in the form of hand-outs and materials that  provide further information that might not have been covered on the day. A nice touch would be to have the students write personalised thank you messages to all their hosts and chaperones to illustrate gratitude for the time allocated to them.

Job shadowing is a relatively small investment that can yield some great returns for the company and society at large. It is also a great opportunity to shape your employer brand and market your company as an employer of choice. It is particularly impactful if you want to expose students to some careers that are not well marketed or misunderstood by young people. Especially if they are critical and scarce skills your industry is trying to encourage young people to enrol into. Though brief in length, a job shadow event can have a significant impact on how a school learner engages with their career choices and aspirations.