Year 11 pupil Oliver Lee Purcell explains how his work placement gave him a valuable glimpse of the adult world and helped ready him for life after school and his GCSEs.

In May 2017 I went on a work experience placement at Sainsbury’s Online Fulfilment Centre, a large warehouse on the opposite side of the River Lea to Lock Keepers, where all your online shopping is organised and delivered. I used my Enrichment afternoon to take time out of school each week to work as a Sainsbury’s employee, working in various departments, for most of spring and all of summer term.

On sending the initial email to Sainsbury’s asking for a placement I was apprehensive about applying and wasn’t sure I really wanted to go. I was still looking around at other options.

They called me in for an interview and I saw the head of human resources. She asked me about my predicted grades, what my ambitions and aspirations are, what I wanted to do when I left school, which was, and still is, to be a paramedic. I explained that I wanted to broaden my horizons and work on my communications skills – this is where the work experience placement really helped me.

The store was an eye opener. It operates 24 hours a day. When the 4am shift ends, another set of people arrive at work, the warehouse is always buzzing with people packing customers shopping into trays and loading the refrigerated delivery lorries. The IT systems at the warehouse are very advanced. Everything is barcoded, scanned and tracked by GPS so the managers know where anyone’s shopping is at all times – whether it’s being processed on the massive multi-story internal conveyor-belt system or stuck in traffic on a lorry in Mile End.

Everyone at Sainsbury’s was really friendly and made me feel welcome. When I first arrived for my shift I could be discussing what needed to be done that afternoon with my supervisor, I would chat to co-workers while learning a new role when I was placed in a department I hadn’t worked in before, like working in the industrial walk-in freezer rooms. I might be discussing my progress with the general manager or with people from other departments over dinner in the very good, subsidised staff canteen.

As a result of this experience I am much more confident and feel I could hold a conversation with someone at any level within an organisation. The placement looks great on my CV and I have a reference from my supervisor and the general manager of the warehouse. I’m pretty sure I made a good impression on them too. They gave me Amazon vouchers as a leaving present when my placement ended and I have just started a part time job there.

I now work 12 hours a week (Saturday and Sunday) as a picker – ensuring people get the right items in their shopping basket. I could also potentially have a job with training when I leave school and I’m currently investigating Sainsbury’s management training scheme.

Work experience made me grow up. It developed my communications skills, technical skills ie; digital logistics, knowledge of distributions networks in a retail environment, socialbility and has made me feel like I am ready to leave school and enter the next phase of my life.

Oliver Lee Purcell, Year 11 (Einstein)