It’s a dilemma for graduates on the look out for their first job: application forms ask for relevant work experience, while the fact they have been occupied in full-time education means they usually don’t have any. This is why more and more graduates and students are finding work experience placements invaluable.
Not only can they learn real, practical life skills within the work environment, where they can gain a better understanding of the work ethic making them more employable, but it can also give them an insight into what they really want to do as a career.
In fact, prospective employers and education professionals agree that it’s actually a win/win situation, because the positive advantages of placements are also felt within the companies that run such schemes. They get another pair of hands and they can then also vet prospective future employees. In fact, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), one in five people who do placements now return to their original placement company to begin their careers.
While the internet is now the top source of information for graduate jobs, with 24 per cent of respondents citing it as their preferred method of searching, around a fifth of graduates secure a job through a work experience placement. HeatherCollier is the Director of the National Council For Work Experience and lists a whole host of benefits both students and graduates can gain from doing a work experience placement. “It helps to build their confidence,” she says, “and gives them a sense of what it’s like in the real world. It is an opportunity to network and put theory into practice – often students achieve higher grades when they return to university. It gives them a chance to learn employability skills such as team working, problem solving, communication skills, use of initiative and taking responsibility. It can also be used as a taster session to see if this career is really for them. It will also give them something to talk about at subsequent interviews.”
In the past, work experience could be something of a let down as students were asked to make the tea or do the filing, but nowadays companies want to give graduates real responsibility and opportunity on their placements. “All work placement programmes should be designed to involve students in real projects, which provide a good demonstration of what it would be like to work within the industry, and in that role. If a student is keen, they can network with permanent staff, possibly rotate jobs and try a few departments or sections during the placement or receive extra training,” says Collier. “Companies who fail to recognise the importance of a high quality work placement scheme not only let down their work placement students, they also miss the perfect opportunity to attract graduate employees earlier than their competitors, as well as benefiting from fresh, innovative ideas which could really help their business.”
If you are considering undertaking a work experience placement then you should expect to learn how to apply theory to real world business tasks, and to understand the languages of various businesses. You should also be willing to practice your soft skills, particularly communication, time management, professionalism, innovation, project management, and teamwork. You should show a willingness to learn, as this always impresses potential hirers, and it is the students who show the most enthusiasm who tend to shine while on placement – and who go on to get those all important jobs.
Summing up, Collier says: “the difference between those who have been on placement during their degree and those who haven’t is immeasurable for prospective employers. European students currently have much more work experience embedded in their curriculum and for this reason employers are now starting to look beyond home graduates to fill some of their vacancies.”
Find out more at the National Council for Work Experience site: www.work-experience.org
Read our case studies to see just how much other people have benefited from work experience placements.
WORK EXPERIENCE: THE BENEFITS FOR STUDENTS
- IMPROVED SELF-CONFIDENCE
- GAINING ACCREDITED EXPERIENCE
- SEEING IF A PARTICULAR WORK AREA IS FOR THEM
- EXTRA CASH (IF PAID WORK)
- IMPROVED COMMUNICATION SKILLS
- BECOMING MORE ‘BUSINESS AWARE’
- STARTING A NETWORK OF BUSINESS CONTACTS
- IMPROVED EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS
WORK EXPERIENCE: THE BENEFITS FOR EMPLOYERS
- FRESH IDEAS
- AN EXTRA PAIR OF HANDS
- BEING ABLE TO ASSESS A POTENTIAL EMPLOYEE
- A CHANCE TO TAP INTO A STUDENT’S KNOWLEDGE
- GETTING LOWER PRIORITY PROJECTS COMPLETED
- POTENTIAL HOLIDAY COVER
- POSSIBLE ASSOCIATION WITH A UNIVERSITY AND ACADEMIC SUPPORT