Head of Employability and Careers at the University of Surrey
Placement years give students enriching employment opportunities in their chosen industry — and an opportunity to get ahead of the job-seeking competition.
University students who spend a placement year in industry as part of their degree can benefit in a variety of ways. “A placement year – usually taken in your penultimate year – is tailored to your degree and gives you a richer insight into your subject and career potential,” explains Frances Gow, Head of Employability and Careers at the University of Surrey. It’s also a good way for students to find a full-time job once they graduate. Around 40% of students at Surrey who take a placement year say their providers end up offering them a permanent role. Even without the offer of a job, industry experience looks impressive on a CV, and gives students more credibility – and employability.
Work placements also give an insight into what the recruitment process is really like. Students often make a number of applications and go through interviews before they get their placement offers, and some may experience set-backs along the way. However, they don’t have to deal with challenges – and potentially rejection – on their own: the careers services at their respective universities are on hand to offer them support, advice and encouragement.
Placements give students experience and confidence
“The beauty of the placement year is that students have to apply to employers themselves,” says Gow. “In our case, they tend to apply to the companies we work with, but are free to find others.” Most industries offer placement years, but they’re particularly popular in sectors such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), finance and accounting, tourism and health. “I can’t think of an industry that doesn’t offer them,” says Gow. “So, whatever your subject, it’s just a matter of being persistent.”
Work placements also give an insight into what the recruitment process is really like.
When students do find a placement within a company, their confidence can rocket. “We see such a difference in them at the end of the year,” says Gow. “We only have to talk to them to see how confident they’ve become, compared to those who haven’t had the experience of a placement opportunity. Working in industry for a year helps improve their communication skills, which is something that employers are always asking for. It also gives students the chance to hone their problem-solving abilities and apply the knowledge they’ve learned at university to real-world situations. They come back with a completely different, more positive view on their remaining year, and tend to end up doing better because of it.”