Work experience 'needs more than parent networking'
The quality of teenagers' work experience is strongly linked to future careers but must rely on more than just their parents' connections, a heads and employers report says.
It calls for the potential of work experience to be better used to broaden pupils' horizons.
Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman says he has seen young people "transformed" by good work experience.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling says placements have a "significant impact"
The report from the Education and Employers Taskforce and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and with a foreword by Mr Lightman, says work experience makes a big difference to the career paths of young people.
As such it argues that this importance needs to be reflected in a more systematic approach, which does not rely on the networking skills of parents and friends.
The report, Work Experience - Impact and Delivery, Insights from the Evidence, says that a better organised work experience system would deliver much better outcomes.
"The problem is that half of placements are found by young people or by their families using largely existing social networks," says the report.
As such, it warns that the potential value of work experience in raising expectations and improving social mobility can be "wasted".
The importance of work experience has risen in a tight jobs market - with worries that it can be used as a way of giving an unfair advantage to well connected families.
Those arguing for an improved system say they want to make sure work experience opens new doors rather than reinforces old divisions.
The report says that work experience which relies on informal networks is not "equitably accessed".
For example, it questions how children growing up in workless families are going to gain work experience, if it depends on family links with workplaces.
Good work experience helps young people understand the jobs market and reduces the risk of youngsters becoming so-called "Neets" - not in education, employment or training, it adds.
It also helps young people improve their applications and chances of getting a place in university.
The report also claims that more than two-thirds of head teachers said pupils were more motivated when they returned from work experience.
But it warns that changes to work experience entitlement mean that many schools are considering moving away from organising work experience for some teenagers.
"Traditionally at this time of year more than 500,000 15 year olds are returning from their Easter holidays planning to do a two-week, summer-term placement with an employer," said Nick Chambers, director of the Education and Employers Taskforce.
"However, work experience is undergoing major change, perhaps the most significant for a generation.
"These changes are being driven by the government encouraging work experience for older pupils aged 16-19, repealing the statutory requirement to work-related learning at Key Stage 4 [14 to 16 year olds] and schools now having to bear the full costs of organising it."
Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said work experience could have a very positive impact on young people.
"However, this does not always happen automatically. Effective work experience placements need proper planning and need to be matched to the needs of students."
Employment Minister Chris Grayling also emphasised the value of work experience for future job chances.
"I strongly support the concept of work experience because of the significant impact it can have on job prospects for young people through giving them an insight into the world of work, together with practical skills and knowledge based in a real world environment," said Mr Grayling.