A placement year can be confused by its various guises. If you wander around career advice centres at your university or college for long enough, you’ll hear a wild assortment of different terms. A placement year can be a ‘sandwich placement’ or an ‘industrial placement’, and even ‘a year in industry’. Essentially, they all describe the same thing.
A sandwich-placement-year-in-industry is a structured programmed in which a student spends a year working in an industry. They act as a full-time employee before returning to university to complete a final year. A placement such as this normally takes place during the penultimate year of a four-year degree. I can’t reveal all the secrets of a year in a placement in the first paragraph, so read on!
Not a Fortnight at the Photocopier
A placement year isn’t like the work experience you may have suffered through in secondary school. A fortnight at the photocopier, or if you were lucky, the scanner. Neither are placements students employed to make the tea for the person who makes the coffee. You will be expected to make a practical contribution. Precisely what you will be contributing is dependent on your job description and the company you are working for.
Placement years are designed to provide a student with an impression of different parts of a company. At the end of the year, students can expect to have practical experience in a number of different areas. It could be in sales, in human resources or customer service, the world is your oyster.
Developing Workplace Skills
Developing workplace skills may not sound like the most thrilling aspect of a placement year, but they are crucial for future career success. Working in an office or another industry-specific environment will instil the soft skills which are necessary to flourish in employment after university. Soft skills define a person’s interpersonal skills, and how they build relationships with colleagues during a placement year.
University level education is often individual-centric. It’s strange then, that the ability to communicate and collaborate with peers is a pre-requisite in most job applications. It is important to consider this from the first day of a placement year. A prowess in these areas is valuable and broadly applicable to an array of job titles and industries. It is also possible to develop these skills through an internship or shorter work placement.
Putting a Degree into Practice
A placement year is likely to be with a company which has a close association to your field of study at university. You will be putting the material from fascinating 9am lectures and tutorials into practice, in a real working environment. Although you will not be expected to have specific technical skills before you have arrived, your employers will demand that you develop on the job.
This on-the-job learning marks a placement year similar to an apprenticeship. You will graduate with practical experience within an industry, as well as a theoretical understanding of it. The specific and relevant work experience that a placement year provides is not just an insight into an industry, it can help you stand out from other candidates when applying for graduate jobs.
Travel May Be Involved
You may be required to travel as part of your placement year. If your role includes sales or brand representation, visiting clients up and down the country could be a regular occurrence.
This is an item you have to discuss with your employer. Travels expenses are normally covered by the employer, so there is no need to worry about buying expensive travel cards until your placement begins. However, if travelling as part of your placement is something which you are uncertain about, or unable to do, certain placements might not be suited to you.
Moving to a New Area
You might even have to move to a new city to complete a placement year. Similar to the last point, if moving as a part of your placement is something you are uncomfortable with, its best to find a programme which does not require you to do so.
Universities can be in partnership with companies from across the country, and even abroad. If the prospect of moving far away is something which interests you, there are a few things you will have to consider.
On top of the difficulty of actually finding somewhere to live, the cost of rent can turn a placement year into an expensive decision. Salaries vary for placement students – the national average is around £17, 335. (Glassdoor, 2016) It’s advisable to do some research before you decide to move for your placement, and have a look at typical rent costs for the area.
Keeping a Log
Your university will expect you to keep a regularly updated diary, describing the challenges and successes of your placement. At the end of the year, you may also have to compile a detailed report.
Writing a lengthy report on a year’s placement will be challenging if you have no record of tasks or assignments that you completed months earlier. To avoid this issue, it’s sensible to keep your diary updated, and make a note of anything important for future reference.
For more information about placements, have a read of the reviews on RateMyPlacement, written by students about their experiences on placement at industry leading companies.