Based on research commissioned by Huddersfield University, work based placements provide definite value to students, both personally and professionally. The earlier they engage in the process, the more benefit is likely to be obtained; and the more thoroughly it was planned by the three sides â the student, the university and the employer – the more positive the experience.
The survey highlights the benefits and drawbacks experienced by students and how academic staff view the process. Author Carol-Ann Morgan notes that âstudents are clearly carrying out an evaluation of the cost versus the usefulness of the placement to them â finance and timing are very important issues. Specificity is the key â the work placement must be appropriate or contributory to their career path or study or they will not undertake it.â?
Huddersfield University came out extremely well in the survey. For committed students, the placement was crucial to them and often drove their decision to choose Huddersfield â over 75% of students said that the placement option influenced where they studied. Overall satisfaction levels with the placements students undertook were high â in 97% of cases it had been a valuable experience and they would highly recommend the placement experience.
Staff commented that the biggest challenge for most Schools is getting students to recognise the value of placements (âitâs as though, for some, the reality of placements is too much like hard workâ?) yet they argue the placement is a major seller of some courses. Staff understand that there are very good reasons for going out on a placement year but recognise that it can be a headache getting this across to students.
The research indicates that universities need to spend more time identifying what students really want out of their placements as well as recognising those students who never want to take a placement. They also need to assess their resources so they are used to maximum effect by way of tailored support, assistance with CVs and the interviewing process, and links with external business/industry.
The report recommends universities manage the expectations of students looking for a placement better and utilise the satisfied returning students to motivate years 1 and 2. Universities are also encouraged to maintain links with satisfied employers, immediately after the placement has finished.
Research uncovered the diverse advantages of work experience:
ï gain knowledge and skills of a specific industry
ï improved job prospects; placements are a fertile ground for future recruitment
ï gain confidence and interpersonal skills
ï develop good work ethos and habits
ï useful as base for thesis which can help the employer as well
â¦and all this has been shown to lead to the likelihood of the student obtaining a better classification of degree.
Several issues were highlighted by students who opted not to take on the work based placement, even though they were well aware of the potential benefits.
ï Financial debt: there are considerable cost implications of a placement as they are often unpaid
ï Accommodation: the practicality of finding housing for year 3 is crucial by February of the 2nd year so if the student is not signed up on a placement by then, they are usually committed to going on a local placement or not doing one
ï Availability of placements: there is too much competition for the few placements available in some areas. It used to be assumed that companies would be found â this is not now the case as the proliferation of the HE sector has increased the competition for work experience places.
Carol-Ann comments âfor society, it is a huge benefit to have this potential workforce. Universities are the âgrounds of propagationâ, our future lies here, with over 40% of young people in HE, and a government target of 50%. Both public and private sector need to embrace this opportunity and make their contribution to this important part of the future workforceâs education and development.â?
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