Work shadowing

The goal of work shadowing is to introduce students to working life in their own field. Work shadowing helps them to recognize their learning needs from the viewpoint of working life, and gives them information about job opportunities in their own field. The students gain a deeper and more concrete understanding of the field and the industry by observing a professional at work.

During the work shadowing period, which can last from half a workday to several days, the students observe alone or in small groups their chosen workplace in the guidance of the employer’s representative. The education institution or the employer can give them a learning exercise to complete during the work shadowing period, or a topic to discuss in their work shadowing reports.

Benefits for the learning institution

  • Opportunity to network and activate working life contacts
  • Opportunity to diversify working life cooperation and develop competitiveness
  • Opportunity to increase the attractiveness of the school as a learning institution and a workplace, and update the employers’ ideas about the school and the degree programme

Benefits for the student

  • Opportunity to explore a certain line of business, company or occupation
  • Opportunity to develop one’s career plans and discover what competencies to develop
  • Opportunity to network and facilitate contacting future employers

Benefits for the employer

  • Short-term cooperation is easy to organize
  • The employer can give the students a topic to pay attention to during the work shadowing period, and the student reports can be useful as development material for the workplace
  • Contacting education institutions becomes easier, and the employer receives up-to-date information about the school and the degrees, as well as an opportunity to initiate discussion about future cooperation with learning institutions and students

Points to consider when implementing the model

Work shadowing can also be integrated into a working life course. Here is an example of the basic concept which amounts to approximately 0.5 ECTS credits, approximately 12–15 hours of work shadowing, integrated into a course on career skills and working life.

1) Provide instructions and begin search for work shadowing placements

2) Meet with the person to be observed (the work shadowing host):

  • settle the work shadowing date and time

  • settle the programme of the work shadowing day

  • settle the language used during the work shadowing day

  • settle the topic that the students address while
    observing the work; the employer can suggest a topic that is useful for both sides

  • sign the necessary contracts related to the work shadowing day

  • settle a meeting for the work shadowing day, which allows the students to discuss the work shadowing host’s tasks, work community and employer in greater detail

3) The students spend the work shadowing day at the workplace with their host for the agreed time.

  • The day should contain a discussion or interview session that addresses the occupation and the work tasks.

4) The students use their notes to write a reflecting report about the work shadowing day.

5) The students return their reports to both their instructor and their work shadowing host.

  • The students agree with their host about how and when they receive feedback based on their report. Feedback from the workplace is essential if the employer has given a topic for the work shadowing day.

6) Feedback discussion with the work shadowing host.

  • If desired, a course meeting can be arranged for a report summary. In this meeting, the students give brief presentations of their work shadowing days; this way, the students get information about several workplaces.

  • A collective peer-to-peer discussion about the students’ experiences, observed by the instructor, can shed light on situations that were difficult during the day. Sharing successful experiences with other
    students, on the other hand, has a rewarding effect.

  • The workplaces that offered work shadowing placements can be compiled into the course’s e-learning environment. Sharing this information gives new students ideas when they search for their work shadowing placements.

Tips for the work shadowing meeting

You could send some questions to the employer before the meeting. The questions help the employer to prepare for the meeting. Here are some questions that might be useful for the employer in organizing your thoughts.

  • What is your job title?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • How do you help this workplace to meet its goals?
  • What is your typical day like?
  • What do you like most about your work? Why?
  • What do you like least about your work? Why?
  • Why did you choose this type of work?
  • What kind of education do you need for this job?
  • What kind of a career path led you to this position after you completed your education?
  • What skills support your work?
  • Do you work in a team?
  • Could you tell me more about working as a team member?
  • What kind of problems do you solve in your work?
  • What skills do you need to solve those problems?
  • How does your education support your work?
  • What do you wish you had studied more when you were in university?

More information: Wake County Public School System

Aalto University, Career Services, Innovation Centre, School of Science and Technology: “Work Shadowing” 

Layne Heidi, designer/instructor, VALOA project, Career Services, University of Helsinki

University of London: “Work shadowing at Birkbeck” 

Laurea Degree Programme of Nursing, interview with Lecturer Ulla Parviainen: “Ulkomaalainen opiskelija työyhteisön voimavarana”

North Karelia Chamber of Commerce: “Opettajat toisissa töissä – Yritykset opetuksessa: Opas opettajien työelämäjaksojen toteuttamiseen sekä yritysten ja koulumaailman yhteistyön tiivistämiseen”

Turja Heli, designer/instructor, VALOA project, Career Services, University of Helsinki

University of Helsinki, Career Counsellor Eric Carver: Work Shadowing exercise (1 ECTS) Curriculum for Career fall 2010

University of Toronto: “Extern Job Shadowing Program”