Career Development Opportunities

Work shadowing

Work shadowing

Work or Job shadowing is where an individual from one area of the organisation has the opportunity to work alongside a ‘host’ and gain experience of the role of another individual. It can also be used to provide an individual within a department, the opportunity to work alongside colleagues so they can learn and develop within their current role, plus determine potential  career opportunities and/or help to increase understanding of processes.

It can contribute to improved performance especially in organisational skills, specific system skills or when a particular area of skill ‘goal’ has been identified.

Technical staff are known for being highly skilled across a huge range of subject areas and as a result they possess many transferable skills. However, how can an individual identify if they have these skills if they have limited knowledge of which roles require these skills? Work shadowing provides the opportunity to test the waters and could be carried out across a number of areas to enable someone to build a picture of possible career directions.

Job shadowing usually only lasts for a short period of time, a few days up to around 1 week, or even simply on a daily basis. It is designed to give an employee an insight into other roles and careers, rather than them actually carrying out the role.

Benefits of work shadowing

For the Visitor/GuestFor the Line ManagerFor the Host and Hosting Department
Understand how other departments and technical staff workIncreases departmental understanding of other areas of the UniversityNetwork with colleagues from different areas
Learn from the experiences of colleaguesIncreases network opportunities and University wide contactsShare your experience with others
Understand and appreciate how other roles support the organisationProvides opportunity to share best practiseLearn from your visitor/guest
Understand and appreciate other needs and priorities outside of your established work roleUseful and cost effective resource/tool to be used for performance improvement or for staff developmentThe opportunity to view and reflect on your own area of work supported by the 'fresh eyed' view of the visitor/guest
The opportunity to discuss your role and its needs and priorities with othersBroadens and increases skillset within the departmentDevelop your staff's coaching/mentoring skills
Understand why things work the way they doCan assist with forward/succession planningEnsures continuity of business
Provides an insight into other roles which will contribute to career planning.Retention of staff within a team.Identifies staff members that may be suitable for secondment opportunities into the area.
Raises the visitors personal profile and gives them an opportunity to advertise their knowledge and skills.Contributes to raising the profile of technical staff across other departmentsShows what services and knowledge technical staff could provide to the hosting department.

Types of shadowing

The type of work shadowing that is undertaken will depend on what the individuals objectives are for doing it.

‘Fly on the wall-observation’
The visitor or guest spends an agreed period of time observing the day to day activities of the host. This may include meetings, watching interactions with other colleagues, discussing written documents etc. The idea is to get a typical representation of what happens on a daily basis. There should be the opportunity for the visitor to ask questions throughout the day.

Short burst interactions
The visitor/guest may be looking to observe a particular task or activity which may occur regularly over a period of time. This would be relevant if there was a need for the visitor or guest to take on additional responsibilities within their role but they are not familiar with how to go about it.

Hands on involvement
This may be a little more onerous on the host as it allows the visitor/guest to actually carry out a part of the hosts role. This provides the visitor with the chance to get some experience but under the direct guidance and support of the host. This can be a little difficult for the visitor to organise however.

Setting up a work shadowing scheme for technical staff

  • If there is a scheme already in place within the institution for all staff, use the basis of this scheme as a starting point.
  • Technical staff often require specific training on particular equipment but are not aware of other technical staff within the institution that possess these skills. Work shadowing is a good way to help fill some of the skills gaps.
  • Set up a database of technical staff and their skills. This can act as a pool for possible shadowing sessions.
  • Decide whether the system is going to follow a set timetable or if applicants can apply at any time and the system runs continually.
  • Draw up an application form that participants need to complete.
  • Make the matches once applications have been received.
  • Provide participants with any formal guidance around confidentiality.
  • Ensure participants have documented the objectives and the timeframes.
  • Obtain feedback from participants once the shadowing has been completed.

I would like to work shadow, where do I start?

  1. Decide what you would like to gain from the visit.
  2. Discuss time frames and work commitments with your line manager.
  3. Ensure any individual circumstances or challenges are considered.
  4. Decide how much time you can practicably allocate to this visit.
  5. Outline the roles, people or departments that you would like to work with.
  6. Contact the potential hosts line manager to discuss a potential visit.
  7. Draw up any specific questions that you would like to be able to ask the host.
  8. Agree a timeframe/programme with your chosen host/hosts.
  9. Arrange any necessary cover for your absence. Discuss this with your direct colleagues.
  10. Allocate some time to provide feedback to your colleagues about the experience.
  11. Consider whether any new ideas need to implemented into your workplace.

Host and Host departments role

  • Inform your line manager of what is going to happen. (They should already have been contacted by the visitors equivalent line manager).
  • Be clear about what the visitor is hoping to experience from the visit.
  • Clarify dates and timeframes with the visitor.
  • Set confidentiality parameters (agree what can be shared and what cannot).
  • Inform the visitor of things such as dress code, lunchtimes, location etc.
  • Complete any Health and Safety procedures as necessary.
  • Allow any access to IT systems if the visitor is to carry out any actual work.
  • Decide where the visitor will sit/be placed.
  • Allow the visitor to ask questions throughout the visit.
  • Arrange any reciprocal visits if necessary.
  • Accept any feedback from the visitor and act on it where necessary.

How do I find a job shadow host?

  • Reflect on who you already know within the organisation.
  • Ask your line manager if they know of a suitable host.
  • If your institution has a scheme in place, there may be a pool of ‘hosts’ available.
  • Use your objectives to focus on the appropriate people within the organisation.
  • Use a technical staff forum

What time frame should a job shadow cover?

Reflect on who you already know within the organisation. Ask your line manager if they know of a suitable host.

If your institution has a scheme in place, there may be a pool of ‘hosts’ available. Use your objectives to focus on the appropriate people within the organisation. Use a technical staff forum (link to virtual networking).

What happens after the shadowing event?

The opportunity can link directly to other developmental discussions, events and opportunities such as:

  • Mentoring – did the experience highlight either the wish to engage with a mentor or to become involved as a mentor for someone else?
  • Reciprocal agreements. Review of departmental practices and processes.
  • Review of own personal development goals and opportunities.
  • Opportunity to collaborate or work across departments to aid efficiency.
  • Secondment – is there a need for a secondment to be taken up?