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An unexpected opportunity to increase diversity

A virtual work experience programme levels the playing field and is an opportunity to reach talented individuals who you may never have had a chance to help and nurture, explains Caroline Wilson, HR director at Kennedys

The global pandemic has undoubtedly restricted our movement and reduced the freedom that we are all used to. But in an unusual and unexpected twist, it has actually helped create some positive opportunities. 

When coronavirus started to spread, it became clear to us at Kennedys, like every other business, that we would have to do some things very differently. We are passionate about offering young people opportunities to get into law and ordinarily offer 120 work experience placements every year. We faced the decision of whether to drop the offering for the year or find a solution to the obvious issues of lockdowns and social distancing. We opted for the latter and our trainees and apprentices devised a virtual work experience module – four tasks taking around six hours to complete – accessible anywhere in the world. The fact that this was achieved whilst working from home was in itself incredible. Furthermore, the results exceeded our wildest expectations.

In the first few days of going live, we have had more than 2,500 people register. That is in excess of 20 times the number of young people we would ordinarily be able to reach. Not only that, but we have had people register from countries including Nigeria, Malaysia, Pakistan, Australia, and of course the UK.

The advantages of a virtual work experience programme are immediately clear. Being able to provide thousands of young people, instead of just over 100, with a work experience opportunity is fantastic. It offers people who may not have applied for work experience in the past the opportunity to do so. It can be intimidating for young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to apply to a global law firm for work experience. It’s an unfortunate reality that people find getting work experience extremely challenging. Individuals may wrongly assume that they wouldn’t have a chance of being considered by Kennedys because of the belief of it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, as it may be in some businesses. At Kennedys, we don’t adhere to that, but applying virtually has given more people the confidence to register.

For many, money and location are real barriers to carrying out work experience. Buying traditional office clothes that they may not be able to afford, and travelling long distances to a glass tower in the city, especially if you have never worked in an office before, can be extremely intimidating. Instead, students from any school, college, or university can now undertake real-life tasks from the comfort of their home. 

The virtual programme really has leveled the playing field for all applicants for work experience and to be part of the Kennedys family. I have had more requests on LinkedIn than ever before since we launched this programme and I have accepted everyone as I want all of the people who have registered to feel that Kennedys is interested in them.

Our trainees and apprentices designed a bespoke work experience programme so that it lets those taking it really experience what it is like working for us. They will be asked to prepare a witness statement (Liability), prepare a PowerPoint presentation for a client pitch (Insurance), leave a voicemail for a client (Healthcare), and undertake a legal research exercise on ‘force majeure’ (Commercial). There are both written and verbal instructions for each task. 

From a business perspective, the virtual work experience programme has provided us with an amazing pool of talent to work with. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to reach talented individuals who we may never have had a chance to help and nurture. 

The launch of this programme has demonstrated to us the incredible value of offering the opportunity of work experience from home. The challenge for us now is to build on this. We want those who have registered to take the next step and learn more about us so they will consider applying to us for roles in the future. As a result, we will be planning more virtual events for them, where they will be able to speak to trainees about working for a large law firm and receive tips on what they need to demonstrate when they apply to us for a trainee position.

The pandemic has made us all assess how we work, but little did we know that it would create opportunities for people that were perhaps impossible before. We will be embracing this unexpected opportunity to increase diversity and I would hope other firms would consider doing the same.