The Forage Talent Resource Center

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What is a Virtual Work Experience?

All things virtual

In a COVID-19 world, the term virtual is pervasive. Whether it be coffee catch-ups across a screen, cocktails at the iPad instead of the bar, or complaints of Zoom fatigue, we are increasingly entangled with virtual experiences. 

Enter the ‘Virtual Work Experience.' What is it? Is it also a COVID-19 anomaly—something that is only really relevant during this very peculiar year? Our answer is, in a word, no. Virtual experience programs are here to stay.

What is a virtual experience program?

Also known as VEPs, Virtual Experience Programs are the new tool for career discovery and talent attraction. VEPs take the real-life work, interactions, and experiences of an employee at an organization and convey it through an online platform. By distilling the workplace experience into a series of hypothetical tasks structured according to real-life chronologies of events, anyone, anywhere, regardless of their socioeconomic background, education level, or skillset, can experience the workplace.

So what does a virtual experience program look like? At Forage, we keep it simple. Our partners select an area of the business they’d like to showcase, and from there, we build a series of tasks to form the program.

For example, a program focusing on risk advisory consulting might have four tasks structured as follows:

  1. You’ve received an email from the manager asking you to listen to a voicemail from the client and summarize into an email containing the key points that need to be resolved.
  2. You now need to research the client’s request, summarize your findings into a document, and include recommended next steps.
  3. The manager has asked you to complete the financial modeling on the potential exposure of the client if they don’t take the recommended steps. To do this, she has provided you with an Excel template with the modeling formula already developed.
  4. You are then asked to consolidate the recommended next steps and financial modeling into a PowerPoint for the client. You are also required to draft the covering email sending the PowerPoint to enable the manager to simply forward it.

As the participant completes each task, they can see the answer the organization would want to see in practice. This process allows participants to compare their work and learn directly from the organization.

A virtual experience must convey not only the tasks themselves but also the nature of the organization. That is why our programs contain videos throughout each task from employees of the organization that introduce the program and take the participant through the tasks. By creating that end-to-end simulation experience, participants can complete work at an organization that, while not real, feels real.

At Forage, we believe that anyone anywhere should be given the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe-space environment. That is why each of our programs’ tasks includes supporting materials that allow the participant to complete the work without needing to rely on external resources, such as reading materials, templates, or even pre-prepared models (like our example above). VEPs should not be an assessment tool, but rather an enablement tool that becomes the conduit to experiential upskilling and career discovery. 

Why you should know about virtual experience programs

VEPs are no replacement for real work. Nothing is. But the reality is that studying for a degree or reading about something can be vastly different from actually performing in the role. Further, there are certain preconceptions about roles or careers that can lead to mismanaged expectations about the reality of the work. I can attest to this as someone who, quite unfortunately, thought my (now former) legal career would look like The West Wing.

When participants are trying to find their career path or enter the workforce - the more opportunities for experiential upskilling, the better. Not only does this create more empowered participants, but organizations themselves benefit from better prepared and more high-intent employees, whether they are early in their career, transitioning back to work after an extended career break, making a career change or simply keeping up with the changing nature of their role.

This is why an increasing number of major organizations worldwide are turning to VEPs as the solution to their talent attraction and retention initiatives. They are using VEPs for reasons that include but are not limited to: 

  1. Showcasing their differentiatiors in the market place and the type of work specific divisions do and attracting talent through interactive and engaging tasks.
  2. Upskilling candidates before they commence work or supporting existing employees with finding the right team.
  3. Expanding their reach to more diverse candidates through global open-access and free of charge VEPs. The only barrier is having a computer with an internet connection.

Some of the world’s biggest organizations believe that there is a need to ‘future-proof’ the skills of the workforce, and ensure more equitable distribution of upskilling opportunities. 

Accordingly, an increasing number of organizations are using VEPs to attract talent and make a powerful social impact, and build a pipeline of high-intent and high-quality candidates that are already upskilled in the area of work for which they are trying to hire

We've only scratched the surface on the potential that virtual work experience programs can deliver for your organization. If this piqued your interest, you can read more about why your organization needs a VEP recruiting program today here.

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