The Importance of Undergraduate Work Placements

August 14, 2014

Undergraduate work placements – Their importance

By Francesca Hall –
Desire amongst students for work experience has never been greater. Competition for employment is fierce, especially for those who are about to graduate and looking to enter the world of work. It’s absolutely essential for students to continue to arm themselves with the skills, tools and knowledge to increase their employability and undertaking a work experience scheme is increasingly becoming a fast track to securing a place on a graduate scheme.
Sadly, attending university and achieving that degree alone is no longer enough to secure a role on that all important graduate scheme, and let’s face it, things have been heading this way for a while. It’s essential for students to take employability prospects into their own hands by undertaking an undergraduate work experience scheme. Whether it’s a placement, internship, vacation or insight scheme the only way, in today’s changing workplace, is to begin bolstering your CV from year one.
To help you sift through the various options, we’ve compiled a no-nonsense guide below to help you stay one step ahead of the competition…

So, what is an undergraduate work experience scheme?

An undergraduate work experience scheme involves takingtime out of your university holidays to visit an employer, knock up some experience for your CV and start taking steps to ensure that the combination work experience and time spent earning your degree puts you ahead of the competition. You’ll be paid for the time you spend contributing to the business and come out of it with a glowing CV to show for it too. There are also a number of different opportunities that students can take up from their first year:

i) Placements

Terminology: Industrial placement, sandwich year, year in industry, year-long internships
This is a structured programme where you spend a full academic year working for one company (or sometimes two) as a full time employee before returning to university for your final year.

ii) Internships

Terminology: Work experience scheme, usually paid but depends on the industry
A formal and structured programme that typically lasts from four to 12 weeks over the summer period. Employers use such schemes to identify future talent and will introduce you to the company during your scheme.

iii) Vacation Schemes

Terminology: Vac scheme, work experience
Vacation schemes are a short period of work experience, specifically in a law firm. They typically usually run for one to two weeks. Many law firms will use this time as a way of identifying recruits for their training contracts.

iv) Insights

Terminology: Short-term insight scheme, open day
Insight days or weeks are primarily for first-year students, however many are open to all undergraduates. Insights take place throughout the year and are designed to give you a taster as to the company or industry. They’re used to aid self-selection and spot future talent.

The facts and figures

We know that from a survey of 250 companies advertising undergraduate opportunities, over 60 per cent of those companies will aim to retain the interns and placement students that they take on, offering them positions on graduate schemes. This means that competition is even stiffer for those who haven’t completed any work experience during their degrees. Spaces on these graduate schemes are increasingly being reserved for those who have already completed some form of work experience with the company. This figure rises to a shocking 75 per cent if you’re looking to secure a position at one of the UK’s leading City investment banks. And, half of the training contracts offered by leading law firms are likely to be filled with graduates who have already completed a vacation scheme with the firm (Source: High Fliers Survey 2013).

The benefits of work experience and work placements

You’ll find out what it’s really like to work in business. This is key because it’s not all about securing the role, it’s about knowing what to expect, learning the skills you’ll need to succeed in the future and experiencing the real working world. You’ll learn a lot of theory while studying at university, so entering a business is a fantastic way to see how all of the methods and models you learn about are being used in the field. Finding out how you work, who you work well with and in what areas you need to improve will help you decide if it’s the right industry and role for you.
Upon finishing university and beginning your job search, you’ll have a one in 65 chance of coming out on top of the competition for each role you interview for. With a range of work experiences in your back pocket, you’ll be able to wipe away the competition with all of the transferable skills that you’ve picked up from communication, time management, systems and commercial awareness that you’ve experienced in real situations. Having constructive and positive examples to back up your skill set will be invaluable as your competitors which haven’t used their imitative will may it a little tougher to convey their skill set in such a practical way.

Where to look for a role?

Check out company websites and job sites such as who specialise in advertising undergraduate schemes across a range of industries. From Accenture to Warner Brothers, you can search for hundreds of opportunities and apply. What’s more is that for every student who is looking for an undergraduate scheme you can search through over 25,000 unique peer-to-peer reviews from people who have been there and done it before. This helps to ensure that you can find the right role that’s suited to your needs.
Your university can also be a big help. Lots of universities are increasingly teaming up with international counter-parts to widen the reach for students to gain a breadth of experiences. Take advantage of your careers service and work experience or placement officer if you have one. They have a wealth of experience and will be able to answer any questions you might have with regards to online applications, specific requirements, interviews and cover letters. Make sure you attend careers fairs too as you’ll have the chance to meet some of the employers face to face.
Take full advantage of reading publications (including this one!) to give you an insight into what type of opportunities are available to you in the market. Check out industry specific publications too so that you can identify which exact skills you need to develop for a career in your chosen field. Good luck in your search!

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