There are multiple types of work experience available for young people and those out of work, and they may become confusing. Hopefully this will clarify it all for you - 

All schemes are exempt from national minimum wage legislation, so benefit claimants can undertake work experience while receiving benefits and employers can offer placements without paying the minimum wage.


Work experience for those who have yet to be in employment:

TypeAgeLength of placement
Work experience - Year 10 Age 14-16 One to two weeks
Work experience - 16-19 study programme Age 16-19 Depends on the study programme 
Internship During or after university One month to one year
Work placement During university Three months to one year
Volunteering Any age Any length
Work shadowing Any age One to two weeks


TypeNormal EligibilityLength of placementMandatory/voluntary
Government work experience Young people on JSA, not worked before Up to eight weeks Voluntary, risk of sanction if you leave
Sector-based work academy Any age on JSA Up to six weeks Voluntary, risk of sanction if you leave
Mandatory work activity Any age on JSA Up to four weeks Mandatory
Work Programme  Participation in work programme Up to four weeks Mandatory if on JSA
Work trials Any age on JSA Up to six weeks, usually two Voluntary
Project SEARCH Learning disability or autism Up to a year Voluntary
Community work for long-term unemployed On JSA for more than two years in pilot areas Up to six months Mandatory

Government work experience

The government’s work experience scheme is voluntary. Those on Jobseeker’s Allowance aged 16 to 24 can volunteer to undertake work experience for between two and eight weeks once they have been claiming JSA for 13 weeks, although advisers do have flexibility to refer people who have been claimingJSA for less time. Work experience takes place for between 25 and 30 hours per week. Young people carrying out work experience continue to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance, and must therefore continue to look for work and attend regular jobsearch reviews. Jobcentre Plus may offer help with travel expenses and childcare costs.

In some exceptional circumstances someone may be offered work experience if they are older than 24.

Work experience does not necessarily lead to a job; the objective is to help young people who don’t have work experience already to build up so called ‘employability skills’ and fill gaps in their CV. Both of these are important factors in helping people – particularly young people – to get a job.

While work experience is voluntary, anyone who cuts their placement short after more than one week may have their benefits stopped for two weeks. *

* Since the time of writing the DWP ministers have met employers and agreed that unemployed people will not have benefits docked if they leave work placements early, according to the Guardian.

Sector Based Work Academies

Sector Based Work Academies (SBWAs) are a form of work experience that include short, accredited training provided by an organisation funded by the Skills Funding Agency (usually a college or private training provider).

SBWAs last up to six weeks and are voluntary for claimants. They combine a work placement with training based either in the workplace or in a classroom. The training should usually lead to a sector-based qualification recognised as the entry level in that area – for example retail, hospitality, facilities management or care.

Successful completion of a SBWA is meant to lead to a guaranteed interview for a real vacancy.

SBWAs are voluntary but, like work experience placements, failure to complete the SBWA can lead to a benefit sanction.

Mandatory Work Activity

A Jobcentre Plus adviser may refer someone to a work placement that is of ‘benefit to the local community’ if they feel a claimant has little or no understanding of the behaviour that someone needs to show in order to get a job and keep it. This scheme is known as Mandatory Work Activity. Normally this can happen at any point from three months into a claim. If referred to Mandatory Work Activity, claimants must take part or they lose their benefit. They could be placed in a wide range of roles. This could include for example doing maintenance work for housing residents, renovating and recycling old furniture, working in a local sports club or supporting charitable organisations. However the work can also include activity that generates a profit for the employer, as long as there is a clear community benefit.

The scheme is delivered by a range of organisations from the private, voluntary and third sector, who are paid by the government to organise placements and to provide support to claimants.

The work placement involves up to 30 hours of work a week for four weeks, unless otherwise agreed by Jobcentre Plus. Funding is available for travel costs and childcare during the time on the placement, there are no other additional payments to the claimant.

If someone on a Mandatory Work Activity placement fails to turn up without good reason, they will receive a sanction of their Jobseeker’s Allowance payments. The first time this happens, claimants lose their benefit for 13 weeks. The second time it happens within a 12-month period, they will lose their benefit for 26 weeks. Once sanctioned, they will not be required to take part in another work placement.

Work Programme

The Work Programme is not a work experience scheme. It is a single programme of support for all those who have been out of work for an extended period. It has replaced all previous employment programmes except for Work Choice.

Specialist providers deliver the Work Programme for the Department for Work and Pensions. There are 18 ‘prime’ providers that hold contracts with the department, and that work with a network of around 900 sub-contractors. Claimants stay on the Work Programme for up to two years.

Work Programme providers can refer participants to work experience, which is organised by the provider. The claimants must continue to meet the conditions of claiming their benefit. Whether or not participation on the Work Programme is mandatory or voluntary depends on the customer group. For jobseekers referred to work experience, participation in the placement must be mandatory in order to comply with national minimum wage legislation.

Work Trials

Work trials can be used by employers and claimants as a ‘trial period’ before a job offer is taken up. They can last up to six weeks but are typically around two weeks in length. Work trials are voluntary, and those who take part continue to receive benefits and are paid expenses, for example for travel.


3. Work trials


A work trial is a way of trying out a potential employee before offering them a job. Once agreed with Jobcentre Plus, you can offer a work trial if the job is for 16 hours or more a week and lasts at least 13 weeks. The work trial can last up to 30 days.

Some of the benefits are:


  • it’s risk free - you can try the person out before making a final decision
  • you know they’re committed because they’re volunteering to do it
  • there are no wage costs - people continue to get their benefits
  • there’s very little paperwork and it’s fuss-free


The conditions for a work trial are:



Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH is a programme that funds supported internships for young people with learning disabilities and autism.

The programme is run by a partnership of an education provider, a supported employment provider and the host employer, all based on site full-time at the host employer.

Project SEARCH is a year-long programme with a typical cost per place of around £10,500. Inclusion has recently carried out an evaluation of Project SEARCH for the Office for Disability Issues. This can be downloaded from the Office for Disability Issues website.

Community work for the long-term unemployed (the ‘Community Action Programme’)

The Prime Minister announced in December that the Department for Work and Pensions will test a new programme in four areas, which will require those who have been on JSA for more than two years to do community work of 30 hours per week, for up to six months.

This programme will be mandatory for claimants, with sanctions for those who fail to complete the placement. The Prime Minister has stated that the government intends to roll this out nationally in 2013, for those claimants who have completed two years with a Work Programme provider and failed to find employment.