Barclays offers virtual work experience in the LifeSkills Pod

Update: Barclays has been in touch to clarify that my instincts were correct: what is being offered is not a virtual-reality experience, as reported elsewhere. Barclays also clarified that the Pod is an educational tool for teachers as much as a “work-experience simulator”, but, given that the press release uses the phrase twice, I think the rest of the article remains a fair critique. I will update the piece as and when I receive more information.

Barclays offers virtual work experience in the LifeSkills Pod

In 1999, when everyone was supposed to be partying, I was doing a week’s work experience at a solicitors’ in Derby. To be honest, it might as well have been any other place, as the week involved a lot more tea-making and paper folding than Better Call Saul suggests the legal profession should. Still, it put me off a career in law, which was probably for the best.

Nowadays, though, work experience is apparently quite tough to come across, which is why, according to City AM, Barclays has introduced the LifeSkills Pod: a virtual experience designed to “give young people a taste of the ever-evolving workplace”. No, this isn’t another April Fool’s Day banking piece, I promise.

Launched at Lister Community School in east London on Tuesday, it expects students to select the field in which they want to work, then complete a number of virtual tasks set by their virtual employer. City AM refers to it as “virtual reality”, but, according to Barclays’ press release, it looks more like this:barclays_lifeskills_pod_image

Either way, it’s no substitute. It’s one thing to have a gut feeling that the tasks you’re being given on your work experience are entirely pointless, as I did 17 years ago, but to know it for certain in a virtual environment is an entirely new dispiriting kettle of fish.

It’s not even clear that it’s particularly useful. Schools already work on the model of following instructions and standardised testing. Work experience is usually considered beneficial because it gets young adults used to a 9-5 routine and shared kitchen politics, and throws them into a formal environment outside their comfort zone to interact with strangers. A virtual experience can only approximate one of those, and not in a wholly convincing way.

On top of that, will stuffy, stuck-in-their-ways employers really value virtual experience as much as that spent at a real business, with a real telephone number you can call for a real reference?

This idea may be significantly ahead of its time. If you’re currently considering your work experience options, apply for real office work instead. And don’t bother with solicitors’ offices. They’re really, really dull.

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